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Natalie Diaz grew up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia for several years, she completed her MFA in poetry and fiction at Old Dominion University. She was awarded the 2012 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Literature Fellowship, a 2012 Lannan Residency, as well as being awarded a 2012 Lannan Literary Fellowship and the 2014 Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University. Her first book, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press. She currently lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, and directs a language revitalization program at Fort Mojave, her home reservation. There she works and teaches with the last Elder speakers of the Mojave language.
Excerpt from “How to Go to Dinner with a Brother on Drugs”
If he’s wearing knives for eyes,
if he’s dressed for a Day of the Dead parade—
three-piece skeleton suit, cummerbund of ribs—
his pelvic girdle will look like a Halloween mask.
The bones, he’ll complain, make him itch. Each ulna
a tingle. His mandible might tickle.
If he cannot stop scratching, suggest that he change,
but not because he itches—do it for the scratching,
do it for the bones.
Okay, okay, he’ll give in, I’ll change.
He’ll go back upstairs, and as he climbs away,
his back will be something else—one shoulder blade
a failed wing, the other a silver shovel.
He hasn’t eaten in years. He will never change.
Be some kind of happy he didn’t appear dressed
as a greed god—headdress of green quetzal feathers,
jaguar loincloth littered with bite-shaped rosettes—
because tonight you are not in the mood
to have your heart ripped out. It gets old,
having your heart ripped out,
being opened up that way.
Your brother will come back down again,
this time dressed as a Judas effigy.
I know, I know, he’ll joke. It’s not Easter. So what?
Be straight with him. Tell him the truth.
Tell him, Judas had a rope around his neck.
When he asks if an old lamp cord will do, just shrug.