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Tue, May 21

Book Review: Poetry tells story in 'Aztec'

After reading Mojave Natalie Diaz's intense and sharp-edged book of poetry, "When My Brother Was an Aztec," I understood why she and her work have won so many prizes - the Nimrod/hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship from Bread Loaf, to name just a few - even though it is her first published book, a book that kept me spellbound throughout. Her voice is distinctive, darkly humorous and sensual, her vivid imagery shading into the mythological.

"He lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents/every morning./It was awful. Unforgivable. But they kept coming/ back for more," she writes in her opening and title poem. And she's just getting started with the life she and her family led while she was growing up on the Fort Mojave Indian Village. "Love is a pound of sticky raisons" she writes in another poem, "packed tight in black and white/government boxes the day we had no/ groceries." Her mother gave her "the whole bright box" and she "ate them all in ten minutes."

Diaz's book is about much more than her "Black Magic Brother," although he serves to reveal some of the other themes. And he has not made himself into an "Aztec" by himself, he has "shot many men" "in the Kashmir mountains," "shot skulls from brown skins," and "still hears the tanks." There is love, too, different in nature from raison-giving, and there is longing "to feel the knob of your hip opening/to a room of light,"and myth, "we are born with spinning coins in place of eyes/paid in full to ferry Charon's narrow skiffs" beauty in resonant ambiguous things such as "a dark clouds of tarantulas" crossing the road in "an ebony lake of legs."

You'll want to read this unique and unforgettable book to experience the full impact and power of Diaz's poetry. Then you'll understand why this reservation-raised, former basketball player (she played professional throughout Europe and Asia) has raised up so much fuss-dust in poetry circles.

Peregrine Book Company, 219-A N. Cortez St., is in downtown Prescott.


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