Othered in a Land of Your Own: Review of Natalie Diaz’s “Postcolonial Love Poem”


Collections that sing their way across the temporal as rhapsodic as they do the spiritual often invite the audience into the poet’s world, guided by vocabulary and images rooted in the poet’s own distinct patterns of speech. Each time I flip open Mojave Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem, I am squarely on the climax of a poem called “Like Church”– more specifically the section the poem takes its title from. “Yes, our Creator says Kingdom and we come. / Remind our friends. We fuck like we church— / best. And full of God, and joy, and sins, and / sweet upside-down cake…” The rapturous lyrics are an invitation to imaginative play, to dig down into the roots of a language recycled by history and our daily conversations, asking us whose church, cake, and Creator are the ones we invoke when we holler these words. As well as the premise of belonging, the desire to belong, and the question of to whom do we belong in this hollowed-out space of erasure and colonial tongues which are interrogated deftly by Diaz in this collection.

By the time you reach, “Grief Work,” the final poem in the sophomore publication by the author of the equally stellar debut “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” you will be awash in a lexicon proudly defiant of the American landscape which birthed it, but aware of the Anglophobe and Eurocentric basin of water and earth resting atop Indigenous cities, soil, and bodies. In Diaz’s work, the audience soars when she leaps from bullets of copper to brothers — and so too do we disappear when she slips away under a lover’s embrace, lost in euphoria for the moment and the smothered beneath the world attempting to blot her out.

In a reading and interview last semester at Florida State, Diaz referred to joy as an act of resistance, one which can disrupt verse in the inimitable way poetry disrupts the reality it writes itself into. Love, as articulated in the title, is a joy inextricable from her verse: in one of the book’s highlights, “Skin-Light,” her vocabulary craves and devours, so hungry for life it scarfs down passion at light speed. The contact between the speaker and her partner strikes hot like a lightning bolt, yearnful lines like “This is the war I was born toward, her skin / its lake-glint. I desire – I thirst – / to be filled–light well” confiding in desires and passion made physical. It juts out from the opening image of a jaguar hunting, setting us on the prowl for a place of light and pleasure. The collection is tight, moving hungrily from references to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps,” to cosmic constellations and ancient mythology, and on to the ripples left by her drug-addled brother on her life. I found my thirst for her ravenous vocabulary and imagery to be more than satisfied as my lungs and belly were inundated by allusions to myths and beasts of pre-colonial lands. In, “They Don’t Love You Like I Love You,” alone were lines like “Weight meaning heft, preparing me / for the yoke of myself, / the beast of my country’s burdens / which is less worse than / my country’s plow.” Diaz is at her best when she traces the emotional wounds closely and lets the multiplicity of pain, pleasure, shock, and excitement catapult us deeper into a self buried beneath the rubble of a colonized wasteland.

Being an indigenous writer entangles Diaz in a dense, complicated history inscribed into her being. In this collection, pleasure from love and language shatters the walls demanding she perform this tortured identity. Defined and strengthened by these brave leaps of passion, Diaz is defiant in the face of this grand colonial structure comprising our world and proclaims her existence with resounding heart, reclaiming love, land, and language from political powers who, like everything else in this world, are just travelers passing through this earth until they too fade away with time.

By Malcolm Robinson

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