Quick reflection on “When My Brother Was an Aztec”

Way back in October I began reading Natalie Diaz’s poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec. It was on my radar for sometime. Finally, I jumped into it, and found, to my surprise, more confidence in my voice as a neurodivergent poet. I finished it this past weekend.

The second section of the book–intimately focused on the speaker’s brother, a drug addict–jabbed at my every wound I thought was scabbed over. Those moments of severe and specific pain–the bewilderment, too, that only became satisfied in the deep reflections and connections to mythology and tribal life–wow. Similarly, I’m still living–and now writing–toward the recuperations my mental illness tossed up for me.

I found myself, officially, and in no rush, later in the text. It was a poem that really did sit on my chest, and that left me with short breath. In “Why I Don’t Mention Flowers When Conversations with My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences”: Blood burst through the sheet / like a patch of violets, / a hundred roses in bloom.

The mundane that means so much more when dealing with some seriousness. I’ve got some stories for you later about some inanimate, mundane objects turned holy.

I finished the book and sat with it for a while. I wondered, and hope to answer later, about pathology and religion, illness and religion as metaphors, and appropriation paired with generational narratives and traumas. How do they tense, release, make sense or not make sense together? When do poetics function as pathology? When will I find my fearlessness to write the violent intimacies within myself?

Among the questions, however, I left with an understanding that to write specifically and towards intimate pains eventually shoots out the universal. I know what I have to do as a writer. I know what I have to do. I know what I must do. I know, and to be honest I’m moved and fearful and unready, but moving nonetheless. Unscabbing.

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