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Portrait of the Gray Room

by Tacey M. Atsitty

To 鄭福成

I write about a vase, recycled glass:

every grave life brought to display

its slender stalks, puffy winter flowers

gray like fabric fades into tin.

There’s nothing I can do; leaves

have gone wilted & pages dust-

covered from years of howling. Desk

wood written through, though on nights

like this I almost believe— but knots

interrupt striae. How can I fly

when Earth carries me this way?

Decades later, I still lament gray

walls and all the light they graze

from me while I sleep. The one

I love an ocean away, years away,

has forgotten bamboo we planted:

I cup these children in a tub of gray

water. We’ve washed ourselves

into tin again, with only our hands

like a vase on the end table—

Sliding the lamp closer to white,

closer I am to the page— this is grace

in its finest ink. I’m old enough now

to write a love poem, to request a new

absentee ballot— mark it up because

the ones I have are near done fading;

the once vibrant moon of Chang Er

and her rabbit, yolk-filled lunar

cakes and gold characters on red

envelopes expressions of every—

We’ve been pealing as of late. Inside

me, right here— red or black ink,

tin white page of it all: a glass bowl

in dishwater or clean sheets.

Cold & cotton shipping out

of my hands, from my fingers

water: a gush of contrition

face & knee prone to the ground.

This is how I’ve been meaning to love you—

far inside our home, the walls wait with me

in this light, in this dish, in the fabric:

every shard and stitch absent of you.


Tacey M. Atsitty, Diné (Navajo), is Tsénahabiłnii (Sleep Rock People) and born for Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle People). She was born in Logan, UT, grew up in Kirtland, NM but is originally from Cove, AZ.

Atsitty is a recipient of the Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship, the Corson-Browning Poetry Prize, Morning Star Creative Writing Award, and the Philip Freund Prize. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Brigham Young University and the Institute of American Indian Arts, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY; EPOCH; Kenyon Review Online; Prairie Schooner; When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry; and other publications. Her first book is Rain Scald (University of New Mexico Press, 2018).

She is the director of the Navajo Film Festival, poetry judge for the Eggtooth Editions Chapbook Contest, a member of Advisory Council for BYU’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, a board member for Lightscatter Press of SLC and a founding member of the Intermountain All-Women Hoop Dance Competition at This is the Place Heritage Park.

She is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Florida State University, and she lives in Peru.

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