Abigail Chabitnoy

How to Dress a Fish

Griffin Poetry Prize 2020
International Shortlist

How to Dress a Fish

Poet: Abigail Chabitnoy

Publisher: Wesleyan University Press

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Abigail Chabitnoy


Abigail Chabitnoy earned her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University and was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow. Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, LitHub, and Red Ink among others. She is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska, grew up in Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Colorado. How to Dress a Fish is her debut poetry collection.

Judges’ Citation

“Bringing languagelessness into language, Abigail Chabitnoy’s How to Dress a Fish is an act of remythologizing and personal re-collection, a text of redress to the violence of US colonialism. Like the contronym cleave, like swallowed fish that appear whole, her poems assemble a narrative of displacement and emergence, of that which is half-revived and half-buried, to address instability and unify across divides. With gestures of archival investigation and assemblage, the poems move with undercurrent, sections, elision, and invention into voicings of self, land, story, and mythic place. ‘One face is not enough/ to adapt/ to survive/ to be both predator and prey/ and a shark is after all/ not so different’. How to Dress a Fish speaks of division’s expression and history’s fracturing violence. This is a mending inquiry.”

Abigail Chabitnoy reads from How to Dress a Fish

Manipulating Manifesting
(Re)generating Landscapes

I buried my bones.
              No trace was left.

I buried my bones and the landscape
              became settled in [its] disturbances.

There’s no telling where the hand that digs might
              unearth the outline of a dwelling place,
                            the shape of ivory in the process [of]

becoming human.
              It is not evident.

I buried my bones in the fault
              [where] they were of little consequence,
                            more matters to settle

in the end.
              The land remembered only now.

I want to live somewhere old
              in the earth. On the water
                            now there are many boats, [but] the vermin

they are hunting [is] dead
              with metal feet. His pelt
                            [is] already sinking out of reach.

Old in the water. Let me sink
              [mine] in enough earth to bury [me].

Mother, it was my fault. I buried each of my other selves
              until I couldn’t see [ ] the earth was full.
              I was born(e) in this wound mother.

Singing made i[t] so. Steel singing. Destined
              men singing mercantile songs, manifesting
              swindling songs.

Singing say you see. Singing beautiful
              spacious skies, singing
              the brave in d(r)ead silence reposes.

You sang this land for me, (m)other. Each night
              I must find a new way to lay these arms
              stiff under the weight [of] my body.

I don’t know what I expected but at length I found myself a loan. I found
myself a part in a room of my own making, susceptible to drowning, to cave-ins.
I couldn’t hold a shape my own among so many bones and matter besides.
The field turned relic into me.

                            like this, Apaq?
can I wear these faces? which [way]
              shall I bend these bones?
does my skin show [through] these furs?
              do my metal feet b(ear) too much weight?
can I bend my arms in light of mo(u)rning?
                            can I bend them in name for what I (k)now believe?

Return every (last) bone to the l[and]
              I will shape my body in the sound [of]
                            waves breaking the shore

[if] singing made it so
              these days will not be many

I wonder if you hear me, Apaq.
              I wonder if I say your [right] words.

Michael, will you row the boat (a)shore and dig a womb-shaped home
              with my arms
              for your arms
              for all the world worn arms

[until] the waters b(r)each our skin and skin these bones
              in their weight
              in the sand
              to begin again without blood in the print?

From How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy
Copyright © 2019 Abigail Kerstetter

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