Natalie Diaz

I have to talk about Natalie Diaz. Or rather; give Diaz some space (If you haven’t read her yet, you really should!)

This is Diaz in her own words:

The greatest and perhaps single piece of knowledge I carry in me when I write is that there are multitudes of truths contained in a single story. I learned this not by any academic lesson, but within my family. I grew up in the Arizona/California desert, on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, which everyone called the Indian Village, with four brothers and four sisters in a two-bedroom house, to a native mother and a Spanish, Catholic father. We held to many truths all at once. Each seemed to strengthen the possibility of the other, rather than cancel it out. In my house, we never had to choose between the numerous parts of ourselves—we were all of those things, at the same time, sometimes in a noisy collision, sometimes in an easy weave.

My Brother at 3 A.M.

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps

when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.

        O God, he said. O God.

                He wants to kill me, Mom.


When Mom unlocked and opened the front door

at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.

        He wants to kill me, he told her,

                looking over his shoulder.


3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep,

What’s going on? she asked. Who wants to kill you?

        He looked over his shoulder.

                The devil does. Look at him, over there.


She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?

The sky wasn’t black or blue but the green of a dying night.

        The devil, look at him, over there.

                He pointed to the corner house.


The sky wasn’t black or blue but the dying green of night.

Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.

        My brother pointed to the corner house.

                His lips flickered with sores.


Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.

O God, I can see the tail, he said. O God, look.

        Mom winced at the sores on his lips.

                It’s sticking out from behind the house.


O God, see the tail, he said. Look at the goddamned tail.

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.

        Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.

                O God, O God, she said.


Natalie Diaz: 
When My Brother Was an Aztec

Copper Canyon Press, 2012


When I write, Natalie Diaz continues, I bring all of my truths, even the Judas-truths that make me feel like the betrayer whose dirty hands are resting on the table for everyone to see, including God. For me, writing is less a declaration of those truths than it is my interrogation of them. Uncovering the darkness in me that led to some of the poems about my brother also lights up the hard, bright way in which I love him and the small wars I wage to win him back. The monsters and hoofermen I choose to look in the eyes and teeth when considering my rez and this country’s history are also the truths that have built in me a strength and compassion that help me to survive this world. Truth is that little animal we chase and chase until we suddenly glance over our shoulder and realize it has been chasing us all along.

Natalie Diaz’s first book When My Brother Was an Aztec has been critically acclaimed. Writing about her history and community, Diaz has committed herself to studying and preserving the Mojave language at Fort Mojave. For the last four years, she has been working alongside her Elders to compile a digital dictionary and encyclopedia of the Mojave language as the Director of the Mojave Language Recovery Program. A former professional basketball player, Diaz compares the rhythm of her poetry to the rhythm of the game. Diaz is the recipient of the Narrative Prize for Poetry, the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and the 2014 Holmes National Poetry Prize.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    Thanks for this! I will look her up.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Please do, I believe you will like what you find

  2. This connects so well with some ideas I’m churning at the moment–and will probably show up on my blog soon–thank you!! I’ve read Diaz and always found her work compelling and harsh and true.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Interesting – looking forward to it

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