Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation
By Natalie Diaz
Angels don't come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.
Coyotes, too. They all mean the same thing—
death. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven't seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named Gabe though—
he came through here one powwow and stayed, typical
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars. Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women's bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I've ever heard of has ever been or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—
Nazarene church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John's wife. It's no wonder
Pastor John's son is the angel—everyone knows angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say. They're no good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean?
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we're better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
'xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they'll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they've mapped out for us.
(from When My Brother Was an Aztec. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 2012)
Not that I could have written it, not being Native American — but that doesn't stop me from loving the sentiments, the language, and the poetics. It's not easy to write a convincing abecedarian, let alone one so brilliant as this.
It may be that Natalie Diaz is very well-known to American readers. This particular poem, which received an Honorable Mention in the James Hearst Poetry Prize for 2011, has been shared widely on the net, and tweeted. But I only just discovered her, and it. I saw her book reviewed — can't even remember where — and thought I must have it. I'm not sorry! It's a very new purchase and I haven't even read half the poems yet, but already I know this book is a treasure. It's also one I don't want to race through; I'd rather savour and ponder. I think you can tell by the piece I've shared that this doesn't mean it's dull, but full of riches.
She got an Honorable Mention in a 2009 War Poetry contest too, for an astonishing prose-poem called A Wild Life Zoo.
You can see her in conversation with an interviewer and/or read the transcript, with links to more of her poems, here. And here is a long article detailing interviews about her writing, with a link to one of her short stories. Yes, she writes fiction too.
Googling her, I found a wealth of material and learned that she is working with Mojave elders to preserve the language — an important step in preserving the culture — and that she used to be a pro basketballer. She has a basketball poem too. (Read the preceding piece by Sherman Alexei as well.) You can find some more of her poems here. I expect and hope there will be even more to come.
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