Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Graywolf Press, 2020
Pages: 120. Paperback, $16.00
The Body As Belonging: A Review of Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem
by Jessica Gigot
In her highly anticipated second poetry collection, Natalie Diaz is a master of transfiguration—inhabiting and observing various bodies, from the nameless lover to the collared wolf to the minotaur and ultimately the colonized body of Native culture. Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Tribe. While her first book When My Brother Was An Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) largely examined questions of “how do you love and sometimes unlove” a family member with addiction (her own words from her MacArthur Genius Grant interview), this book takes on broader explorations of desire and self-acceptance with an on-going movement towards indigenous restitution that spans both of her collections.
Lucille Clifton writes in her iconic poem “homage to my hips” that “these hips/are free hips./ they don’t like to be held back.” Hip imagery in Postcolonial Love Poem has important symbolic meaning in the body and appears frequently in Diaz’s collection threading these poems together in an effective, and thought-provoking way. In the title poem she writes, “Your hips were quartz-light and dangerous.” In another early poem “Catching Copper” her brothers, “walk their bullet/ with a limp—a clipped/ hip bone.” In “Like Church” she writes, “Her right hip/ bone is a searchlight, sweeping me, finds me.”
Insatiable hunger and hurt echo throughout these poems with “hips” as potentially a portal to hope, satisfaction, and understanding. Interestingly, we hinge at our hips—they are the center for all movement and flexibility. In “Ode to the Beloved’s Hips” she confesses, “I am guilty. I am sin-frenzied and full teeth for pear upon apple upon fig.” For Diaz, the beauty of the body and connection between bodies, becomes a new form of redemption outside of outdated, religious constructs. As she writes “From the Desire Field”:
Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.
Let me call it, a garden.
In basketball, a sport Diaz played as a child and later professionally, you throw your weight around. It is another physical way Diaz has made space for her own questioning of the world. In “Run n’ Gun” she writes, “we lit up the gyms with our moves.” Later in “Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good A Basketball,” a piercing yet humorous prose poem, she confesses, “On the court is the one place we will never be hungry—that net is an emptiness we can fill up all day long.”
Between vivid and often sensuous scenes, Diaz poses vulnerable and surprising questions to the reader. She asks, “How is it that we know what we are?” which seems central to the book’s overall tone and theme. The “we” being the omniscient, reflective narrator as well as, perhaps, a specific disenfranchised people. Diaz is not shy about her need for answers and reparations from the past. However, simultaneously, she does not ignore the ongoing paradoxes of postcolonial life; the contrast of “the war ended” and “these ever-blooming wounds” mentioned in the title poem. Diaz is doing the hard work of both decolonization and discovery in these poems, finding new truths and possibly long-lasting healing and change with language that is truly her own.
In his groundbreaking book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem writes, “We will not end white-body supremacy – or any form of human evil — by trying to tear it to pieces. Instead, we can offer people better ways to belong and better things to belong to.” In the final poem, “Grief Work,” Diaz calls herself “I, the terrible beautiful” and later confesses that “I do my grief work/with her body—:” which is a vital summation of this gripping collection.
Acknowledging our own bodies in place and time and history, finding those we can belong to, those we can love, are essential human longings and for Diaz, also a balm against systemic oppression that could have otherwise deprived her of all poetic urgings. Postcolonial Love Poem teaches as much as it soothes. Diaz interweaves personal and universal love and desire and successfully demonstrates their centrality to our collective story.
Jessica Gigot is a poet, farmer, teacher, and musician. She has a small farm in Bow, WA called Harmony Fields that makes artisan sheep cheese and grows organic herbs. Her first book of poems, Flood Patterns, was published by Antrim House Books in 2015 and her second book, Feeding Hour, is forthcoming from Trail to Table Press (Fall 2020). Her writing appears in several publications such as Orion, Taproot, Gastronomica, The Hopper, and Poetry Northwest.