Orlando White is Diné (Navajo) from Sweetwater, Arizona. He is of the Zuni Water Edge People and born for the Mexican Clan. He received his A.A. and B.F.A. in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Oregon Literary Review, Red Ink Magazine, To Topos, 26 Magazine, and Ur Vox. He is currently in the M.F.A. literary arts program at Brown University.

Three Poems by Orlando White


Enough to reveal part of what covers a skull, to scrape out its ink with a trowel: a loop of an unfinished alphabet, a C bent to an incomplete circle. Language is not vacant only quiet and nameless, unwritten in the depths of the page, an unclothed sound. Excavate an O to remove its tiny white cranium; within text there is extinction, the bone-shaped artifact. See the skeleton of a head, how it grinned, how the teeth of its sentence clenched until it chipped a piece of a letter? You will dig the rest of its design from the layered page, chip at its body until the bone is exposed; fold the paper in half, in that moment you will feel it separate from its form. Chart the dark structure of its bones, the framework of a letter is only a body bag; within the page, that is where the calcium hardens.

[Originally published in Oregon Literary Review, Summer/Fall 07]


The zero is not a circle; it’s an empty clock. And the clock is an o which rolls to the other side of the page. But the c stuck between the b and d eats itself and the page will taste how desperate language is. If you peel a sheet of paper, you will find letters who have eaten themselves: the a who chewed itself until it became a dot on paper and the z who ingested itself until it was a tiny line on a page. Within the white spaces they have become inklings, miniature dark skulls, and black specks on paper. But they still move like the tiniest gears in a clock. And their bones are scattered like dry grains of ink on a white sheet. I think of their deaths: the stiff face of a choked letter, the broken jaw of an e, the throat of an f slit open, an i swallowed up to its torso, the dot bitten from a j, the letters of a sentence removed with teeth; and a sentence dipped in bleach until it becomes a skeleton, the bones thinning into calcium, the sockets of the skull discoloring into pale ink. And you will hurt it more if you try to slip its bones back through the flesh of ink or dress it back into its dry black clothes. So let the lower case i be a body under the dot: a naked letter on the page.

[Originally published in Oregon Literary Review, Summer/Fall 07]


Vacant name tag, middle of an unwritten;

coaxial o rolls out from its shape:

language         unoccupied but

designed by     inaudible flashes of colorless.

In the depths of paper, underneath

text; what was before a page blank,

another layer of spotless pulp. Circle

out of its dermus ink: a human bulb, skull light.

Where the substance of thought

enlightens        the narrative of bone,

skeleton according to speech;

lack of being alives within empty set.

Like a shape of a sound before

ink forms, before structured print

writhes through and out. Curl brackets

enclose sibilant; an s, a phonetic infection.

But a writer corrects what it hears, forgets

in there where          ink absorbs paper, evolves

into written fungic. A spore of alphabet cannot

be sterilized with revision;        so one creates

a circumference        around the letter

to entrap, to press                 its outbreak       of silence.