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Category archive for: Natalie Diaz

Apotheosis of Kiss

I dipped my fingers in the candle wax at church—

white votives shivered in red glass

at the foot of la Virgen’s gown—

glowing green-gold.

The fever was fast—

my body ablaze,

I pulled back.

Pale silk curved on each fingertip—

peeling it away was like small gasps.

The candles flickered—

open mouths begging.

Heretics banged at the double door.

Charismatics paraded the aisles,

twirling tapers, flinging Sunday hats.

The Rapture came and went, left

me, the choir’s bright robes,

collection baskets like broken tambourines—

What poverty, to never know,

to never slide over the lip of a candle

toward flame—raving to touch

her bare brown toes.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Toward the Amaranth Gates of War or Love

Tonight the city is glimmered.

What’s left of an August monsoon

is heat and wet. Beyond the open window,

the streetlamp is a honey-skirted hive I could split

with my hand, my palm a pool of light.

On the television screen, bombs like silvery bells

toll above blurred horizon—

All I know of war is win.

What is a wall if not a thing to be pressed against?

What is a bedroom if not an epicenter

of pillage? And what can I do with a hundred houses

but abandon them as spent shells of desire?

The buzz of blue burning ozone molecules—

a hypothalamus of cavalry trumpets—

call me to something—you,

so willing to be crushed. I feel like I might die.

I lean over, kiss you sitting on the sofa

and pretend we are lying there

stretched across that debris-dazzled desert—

the only affliction is your mouth,

the single ache is that I cannot crawl inside you—

the explosions are for us.

The war is nothing more

than a reminder to go to Mass.

The tolling, your sighing.

The bombs, a carnival of bodies, touch,

all the things we want to taste—

an apple wedge soaked in vinegar,

a blood orange swelling like a breast—

those beggars of teeth.

I want you like that—enough to gnash you

into a silence made from pieces of silver.

Outside, cars rush the slick streets.

My mouth is on your thigh—

I would die to tear just this piece of you away,

to empty your bright dress onto the floor,

as the bombs’ long, shadowy legs,

march me toward the amaranth gates of the city.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Monday Aubade

with a line from Rimbaud

To be next to you again,

to feel the knob of your pelvic bone,

the door of your hip opening

to a room of light

where a fuchsia blouse hangs

in the closet of a conch shell,

the silhouette of a single red-mouthed bell;

to shut my eyes one more night

on the delta of shadows

between your shoulder blades—

mysterious wings tethered inside

the pale cage of your body—run through

by Lorca’s horn of moonlight,

strange unicorn loose along the dim streets

separating our skins;

to be still again knowing

the bow of your spine, the arc of your torso—

a widening road to an alabaster mountain,

a secret path to a cliff overlooking a sea

salt-heavy and laced in foam, a caravel

crushing the swells, parting each

like blue-skirted thighs—lay before me,

another New World shore the gods

have chained me to;

to have you a last time, at last, a touch away,

but then, to not reach out

because my hands are dressed in scarves of smoke;

to lie silent at your side,

an ember more brilliant with each yellow breath,

glowing and dying and dying again,

dreaming a mesquite forest I once stripped to fire

before the sky went ash, undid its dark ribbons,

and bent to the ground, grief-ruined,

as I watch you from the window—

in this city, the city of you, where I am a beggar—

the Dawns are heartbreaking.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Beauty of a Busted Fruit

When we were children, we traced our knees,

shins, and elbows for the slightest hint of wound,

searched them for any sad red-blue scab marking us

both victim and survivor.

All this before we knew that some wounds can’t heal,

before we knew the jagged scars of Great-Grandmother’s

amputated legs, the way a rock can split a man’s head

open to its red syrup, like a watermelon, the way a brother

can pick at his skin for snakes and spiders only he can see.

Maybe you have grown out of yours—

maybe you no longer haul those wounds with you

onto every bus, through the side streets of a new town,

maybe you have never set them rocking in the lamplight

on a nightstand beside a stranger’s bed, carrying your hurts

like two cracked pomegranates, because you haven’t learned

to see the beauty of a busted fruit, the bright stain it will leave

on your lips, the way it will make people want to kiss you.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Cloud Watching

Betsy Ross needled hot stars to Mr. Washington’s bedspread—

they weren’t hers to give. So, when the cavalry came,

we ate their horses. Then, unfortunately, our bellies were filled

with bullet holes.

Pack the suitcases with white cans of corned beef—

when we leave, our hunger will go with us,

following behind, a dog with ribs like a harp.

Blue gourds glow and rattle like a two-man band:

Hotchkiss on backup vocals and Gatling on drums.

The rhythm is set by our boys dancing the warpath—

the meth 3-step. Grandmothers dance their legs off—

who now will teach us to stand?

We carry dimming lamps like god cages—

they help us to see that it is dark. In the dark our hands

pretend to pray but really make love.

Soon we’ll give birth to fists—they’ll open up

black eyes and split grins—we’ll all cry out.

History has chapped lips, unkissable lips—

he gave me a coral necklace that shines bright as a chokehold.

He gives and gives—census names given to Mojaves:

George and Martha Washington, Abraham Lincoln,

Robin Hood, Rip Van Winkle.

Loot bag ghosts float fatly in dark museum corners—

I see my grandfather’s flutes and rabbit sticks in their guts.

About the beautiful dresses emptied of breasts…

they were nothing compared to the emptied bodies.

Splintering cradleboards sing bone lullabies—

they hush the mention of half-breed babies buried or left on riverbanks.

When you ask about officers who chased our screaming women

into the arrowweeds, they only hum.

A tongue will wrestle its mouth to death and lose—

language is a cemetery.

Tribal dentists light lab-coat pyres in memoriam of lost molars—

our cavities are larger than HUD houses.

Some Indians’ wisdom teeth never stop growing back in—

we were made to bite back—

until we learn to bite first.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Red Blues

There is a dawn between my legs,

a rising of mad rouge birds, overflowing

and crazy-mean, bronze-tailed hawks,

a phoenix preening

sharp-hot wings, pretty pecking procession,

feathers flashing like flames

in a Semana Santa parade.

There are bulls between my legs,

a torera

stabbing her banderillas,

snapping her cape, tippy-toes scraping

my mottled thighs, the crowd’s throats open,

shining like new scars, cornadas glowing

from beneath hands and white handkerchiefs

bright as bandages.

There are car wrecks between my legs,

a mess of maroon Volkswagens,

a rusted bus abandoned in the Grand Canyon,

a gas tanker in flames,

an IHS van full of corned beef hash,

an open can of commodity beets

on this village’s one main road, a stoplight

pulsing like a bullet hole, a police car

flickering like a new scab,

an ambulance driven by Custer,

another ambulance

for Custer.

There is a war between my legs,

’ahway nyavay, a wager, a fight, a losing

that cramps my fists, a battle on eroding banks

of muddy creeks, the stench of metal,

purple-gray clotting the air,

in the grass the bodies

dim, cracked pomegranates, stone fruit,

this orchard stains

like a cemetery.

There is a martyr between my legs,

my personal San Sebastián

leaking reed arrows and sin, stubbornly sewing

a sacred red ribbon dress, ahvay chuchqer,

the carmine threads

pull the Colorado River, ’Aha Haviily, clay,

and creosotes from the skirt,

each wound a week,

a coral moon, a calendar, a begging

for a master, or a slave, for a god

in magic cochineal pants.

There are broken baskets between my legs,

cracked vases, terra-cotta crumbs,

crippled grandmothers with mahogany skins

whose ruby shoes throb on shelves in closets,

who teach me to vomit

this fuchsia madness,

this scarlet smallpox blanket,

this sugar-riddled amputated robe,

these cursive curses scrawling down my calves,

this rotting strawberry field, swollen sunset,

hemoglobin joke with no punch line,

this crimson garbage truck,

this bloody nose, splintered cherry tree, manzano,

this métis Mary’s heart,

guitarra acerezada, red race mestiza, this cattle train,

this hand-me-down adobe drum,

this slug in the mouth,

this ’av’unye ’ahwaatm, via roja dolorosa,

this dark hut, this mud house, this dirty bed,

this period of exile.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Prayers or Oubliettes

1

Despair has a loose daughter.

I lay with her and read the body’s bones

like stories. I can tell you the year-long myth

of her hips, how I numbered stars,

the abacus of her mouth.

2

The sheets are berserk with wind’s riddling.

All the beds of the past cannot dress the ghosts

at my table. Their breasts rest on plates

like broken goblets whose rims I once thirsted at.

Instead of grace, we rattle forks

in our empty bowls.

3

We are the muezzins of the desert

crying out like mockers from memory’s

violet towers. We scour the earth

as Isis did. Fall is forever here—

women’s dresses wrinkle

on the ground, men fall to their knees

in heaps, genitals rotting like spent fruit—

even our roots fall from the soil.

4

The world has tired of tears.

We weep owls now. They live longer.

They know their way in the dark.

5

Unfasten your cage of teeth and tongue.

The taste of a thousand moths is chalk.

The mottled wings are the words to pain.

6

We have no mazel tov.

We call out for our mothers

with empty wine jugs at our heels.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

I Watch Her Eat the Apple

She twirls it in her left hand,

a small red merry-go-round.

According to the white oval sticker,

she holds apple #4016.

I’ve read in some book or other

of four thousand fifteen fruits she held

before this one, each equally dizzied

by the heat in the tips of her fingers.

She twists the stem, pulls it

like the pin of a grenade, and I just know

somewhere someone is sitting alone on a porch,

bruised, opened up to their wet white ribs,

riddled by her teeth—

lucky.

With her right hand, she lifts the sticker

from the skin. Now,

the apple is more naked than any apple has been

since two bodies first touched the leaves

of ache in the garden.

Maybe her apple is McIntosh, maybe Red Delicious.

I only know it is the color of something I dreamed,

some thing I gave to her after being away

for ten thousand nights.

The apple pulses like a red bird in her hand—

she is setting the red bird free,

but the red bird will not go,

so she pulls it to her face as if to tell it a secret.

She bites, cleaving away a red wing.

The red bird sings. Yes,

she bites the apple and there is music—

a branch breaking, a ship undone by the shore,

a knife making love to a wound, the sweet scrape

of a match lighting the lamp of her mouth.

This blue world has never needed a woman

to eat an apple so badly, to destroy an apple,

to make the apple bone—

and she does it.

I watch her eat the apple,

carve it to the core, and set it, wobbling,

on the table—

a broken bell I beg to wrap my red skin around

until there is no apple,

there is only this woman

who is a city of apples,

there is only me licking the juice

from the streets of her palm.

If there is a god of fruit or things devoured,

and this is all it takes to be beautiful,

then God, please,

let her

eat another apple

tomorrow.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

I Lean Out the Window and She Nods Off in Bed, the Needle Gently Rocking on the Bedside Table

While she sleeps, I paint

Valencia oranges across her skin,

seven times the color orange,

a bright tree glittering the limestone grotto of her clavicle—

heaving bonfires pulsing each pale limb

like Nero’s condemned heretics sparking along Via Appia.

A small stream of Prussian blue I’ve trickled

down her bicep. A fat red nasturtium

eddies her inner elbow.

Against her swollen palms,

I’ve brushed glowing halves of avocados

lamping like bell-hipped women in ecstasy.

A wounded Saint Teresa sketched to each breast.

Her navel is a charcoal bowl of figs,

all stem thick with sour milk and gowned

in taffeta the color of bruises.

This to offer up with our flophouse prayers—

God created us with absence

in our hands, but we will not return that way.

Not now, when we are both so capable of growing full

on banquets embroidered by Lorca’s gypsy nun.

She sleeps, gone to the needle’s gentle rocking,

and I lean out the window, a Horus

drunk on my own scent

and midnight’s slow drip of stars.

She has always been more orchard than loved,

I, more bite than mouth.

So much is empty in this hour—

the spoon, still warm, lost in the sheets,

the candle’s yellow-white thorn of flame,

a vanishing ribbon of jade smoke,

and night, open as autumn’s unfilled basket

as the locusts feast the field.

from When My Brother Was an AztecFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Diaz
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.