cover image When My Brother Was an Aztec

When My Brother Was an Aztec

Natalie Diaz. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (107p) ISBN 978-1-55659-383-3

In her debut, Diaz portrays experiences rooted in Native American life with personal and mythic power. The poems are narrative and surreal—bodies are wracked by addiction and diabetes, but sometimes “a gunnysack full of tigers wrestles in our chests.” In the book’s first section, stories of reservation life are layered with history and culture. A basketball prodigy ends up selling tortillas from her car; government-issued food leaves those who eat it hungry. We learn how a “tongue will wrestle its mouth to death and lose—/ language is a cemetery.” The third section presents a mix of tactile love poems focused on the female body—“the door of your hip opening/to a room of light”—and others about global politics. Most striking, however, are the poems of the middle section, which figure and refigure a meth-addicted brother whose “shadow flutters from his shoulders, a magician’s cape” as he becomes a character in a series of myths. (June)