Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem Speaks of Rivers and Bodies

Book cover of 'Postcolonial Love Poem'

Mojave American poet Natalie Diaz breaks all the rules with the breaks of her lines in Postcolonial Love Poem. In this collection, Diaz speaks through the native tongues of bodies and groups that have been erased at the hand of the colonizer. She speaks of land, of rivers, of bodies, of love, and of the pain of a nation fighting to exist again. Hers is a language spoken through suffering bodies—the ones found in childhood memories, in her brother, in her lover, and among the wounds of indigenous people.

Postcolonial Love Poem is divided into three sections; each section carries gold worth of stories spelled beautifully with letters telling of generations and history. Each section starts with a quote by different poets of many backgrounds, such as Joy Harjo, Mahmoud Darwish, Hortense Spillers, Robyn Fenty, and Sor Juan Inés De La Cruz.

Before you begin, take a deep breath, and sit down to dip your toes. Then, dive deep into a voyage of Anxiety renamed Desire, planted into a garden of flowers watered with drops of rivers and the blood of a lost history. A voyage of desire against erasure and against forgetting the things they want you to forget: “Do you think the water will forget what we have done, what we continue to do?”

Through her poetry, Diaz celebrates the lives of Native Americans, including those who are gone and the few who remain. She celebrates the ancestors and the unborn generation, and between her lines she emphasizes that the celebration of people happens only when they resist and exist.

In Postcolonial Love Poem, Diaz explores many relationships, such as the relationship between the natives and the land, the speaker with her suffering brother, the speaker with her lover, and, most importantly, the speaker and the reader, who is asked to join the resistance. In addition to these relationships, Diaz mentions her dear friend Ada Limón in the poems “From the Desire Field” and “Isn’t the Air Also a Body, Moving?” These were part of a series of letter poems the pair exchanged through email. In an interview with Diaz, she said: “Why not speak to her as if she were my mother, my sister, my lover, my friend?”

After living with these poems, readers will feel the urge to stand and resist with her, with the natives of the land, and to look back and apologize for the pain we have caused to the land where we were born and where we took our first steps. Diaz describes the cruelest actions a human can take: to forget the first name given to a land. “The first violence against any body of water,” she writes, “Is to forget the name its creator first called it. / Worse: forget the bodies who spoke that name.”

Diaz speaks of wars fought internally and externally; and of colonization of the self and the land that once belonged to her and the indigenous people, she speaks so beautifully:

“It is hard not to have faith in this: / From the blue-brown clay of night. / These two potters crushed and smoothed you / into being–grind, then curve–built your form you– / atlas of bone, fields of muscle, / one breast a fig tree, the other a nightingale / both morning and evening.”

Her journey does not stop there. She continues by speaking of the loneliness of the soul when alone and the loneliness of the souls together in a city that has nothing to offer but bodies over bodies: “What is loneliness if not unimaginable / Light and measured in lumens–

Light and measured in lumens– / an electric bill which must be paid, / a taxi cab floating across three lanes / with its lamp lit, gold in wanting. / At 2 a.m. everyone in New York City / is empty and asking for someone.”

Finally, Diaz speaks of loss and erasure of a whole nation, the natives of the land we stand tall on as we forget how they harvested and nurtured it into the land it is today: “I live in the desert along a dammed blue river. The only red people I’ve seen / are white tourists sunburned after staying out on the water too long.”

Pick up the book and treat yourself to a pilgrimage into the known but hidden, into the unknown but desired. Sit down, coffee in hand, to have a conversation about things we have yet to learn from someone who wants to tell the whole story of colonization.

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