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When My Brother Was an Aztec

4.39  ·  Rating Details ·  946 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
"I write "hungry" sentences," Natalie Diaz once explained in an interview, "because they want more and more lyricism and imagery to satisfy them." This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it ...more
ebook, 124 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Copper Canyon Press (first published April 10th 2012)
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Dec 18, 2013 Roxane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whew. The confidence in this poetry collection is impressive. The work here takes on race and identity and poverty and popular culture. There is also a lot of interesting commentary on the body, how it bleeds, how it fails, how it endures. A truly striking collection.
Jun 10, 2015 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matthew by: Chaneli
Shelves: poetry
The most prominent part of Diaz's When My Brother Was an Aztec is the exploration of the poet's identity, growing up in the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation (as in "Hand-Me-Down-Halloween"), and coming to terms with her brother's meth addiction (as in "No More Cake Here")...
The year we moved off / the reservation /
a / white / boy up the street gave me a green trash bag
fat with corduroys, bright collared shirts

& a two-piece / Tonto / costume
turquoise thunderbird on the chest\
shirt & pants
Jul 14, 2012 Grady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Natalie Diaz, Conjurer

Poetry as turgid with metaphors, as disturbing, raw, and, a veces, humorous and sly and naughty doesn't happen often, but in this collection WHEN MY BROTHER WAS AN AZTEC Natalie Diaz manages to travel this bumpy terrain with such a sure hand that the result is staggering. Perhaps a part of the intensity of her writing is that as a woman born and raised on an Indian Reservation - and that, without parody intended, is why she writes like a necromancer, an augurer, a sorceress
Jul 31, 2012 Jonterri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most exciting poetry collections I've read in a long time. The brutal honesty of these poems is what gets me. There are so many surprises. I found the poems concerning the brother and his relation to the family to be the most powerful/painful. I'll be reading this collection over and over.
Andrea Beltran
Apr 07, 2013 Andrea Beltran rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I have only three words: READ THIS BOOK.
Sharp, angry poems with a fine eye toward metaphor and repetition. Part II, which deals primarily with her brother's struggles with drug addition, was particularly brutal. (At times I felt like the book might have benefited from a smaller selection of poems, since so many retread the same thematic territory--but there's no specific poem I would have cut, and perhaps that's just my own discomfort with the subject matter speaking.) Part III, which leans toward lesbian love poetry, was an unexpecte ...more
Jun 20, 2013 Lee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, poetry
There were a fair number of poems in here I liked a lot. And there were some that didn't do so much for me. Generally, I liked the ones about the history of conflict between American Indians and European settlers [and how her own experiences growing up reflected that conflict], about women, about desire/sex, and about her brother going to war.

I didn’t so much like the ones about the eponymous brother and his meth habit. Which is maybe because some drug usage is sort of squicky to me, but also, I
Peycho Kanev
Jun 19, 2016 Peycho Kanev rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Black Magic Brother

My brother’s shadow flutters from his shoulders, a magician’s cape.
My personal charlatan glittering in woofle dust and loaded
with gimmicks and gaffs.

A train of dirty cabooses, of once-beautiful girls,
follows my magus man like a chewed tail
helping him perform his tricks.
He calls them his Beloveds, his Sim Sala Bimbos, juggles them,
shoves them into pipes packed hot hard as cannons and Wham Bam
Ala-Kazam! whirls them to smoke.
Sometimes he vanishes their teeth then points his broke
Nancy Boutilier
Jun 21, 2012 Nancy Boutilier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"When My Brother Was an Aztec" is a powerful collection from an emerging poet you'll be hearing of get ahead of the curve and be the one talking about it...

Fierce and fragile is the world created in Natalie Diaz's debut collection. The poems chronicles the challenges, heartbreak, hunger(s) and means of survival growing up on the reservation. Varied in form (ballads, pantoum, abecedarian...) and consistently strong, these poems explore hunger and history, weakness and courage, in both
Jan 25, 2017 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Feverish, funny, serious, sensual poems. This collection has TEETH. Whether Díaz is writing about reservation life, her brother's drug addiction, or lovers' jealousy, she ties in themes of conquering and being conquered, of ecstasy and despair, of living the color red (internally and externally). And her phrasing regularly took my breath away. Perfect both for poetry lovers (who'll get more of the allusions than I did) and for those intimidated by poetry (like me).
Dec 26, 2014 Chaneli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
her poems are beautiful, emotional, and just everything good. I can't wait to read her future collections!
Nov 12, 2012 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First reviewed on

"A lot of the images that I’ve grown up with, that’s kind of how I filter the world, through those images, and images carry meaning for me. A lot of the words I use – that’s the way we talk here [Fort Mohave Indian Reservation], that’s the way I’ve learned to express myself or at lest to try to express myself.”

Hearing these words from Natalie Diaz, author of When My Brother Was an Aztec, in an interview on public radio, immediately caught
Jacob Vigil
Jun 29, 2015 Jacob Vigil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the 4th book of poetry I've read this year (Claudia Rankine's "Citizen", Lucie Brock-Broido's "The Master Letters", Warsan Shire's "Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth" were the others). I would group this one with Warsan's book in terms of the themes and style, and how enjoyable they were to read through. Rankine's book was timely and necessary and cut deep, but was a much more complex read, demanding a lot more mental effort. Warsan Shire's book was absolutely incredible, and too shor ...more
Aug 02, 2012 Serena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, published by Copper Canyon Press and ordered for me by my local bookstore Novel Places, is a culture clash of Native Americans integrating into mainstream society and the struggles the children of these family have reconciling their home lives with the differences they find at school and among their new childhood friends and society. The narrator battles with her mother about why she cannot have a sandwich like the white kids rather than raisins, and ...more
Apr 10, 2016 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, fun-lit, usa, chicano
This is a fantastic, devastating book. The main focus is on the speaker's drug addicted brother--his life as an addict and the effects it has on his family. Spanish occasionally weaves in and out of these poems, as does Native American mythology (the book immediately grabbed me with an early poem that merges the brother with Aztec deities in an incredible way) and observations about racial identity. The roots of the brother's addiction are eventually discussed, but far into the book. I liked tha ...more
Nov 21, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a spectacular collection of poems. Her poems about her brother (in particular) and his problems and its effects upon the family caused me to gape in wonder and cry out loud while reading some of the lines. I was so blessed to hear the author read some of these poems the other night at KGB (Friday night). Wow. Her use of language is truly spectacular. I’m going to return to these poems again and again and again. I also want to share them with people who will want to see what is happening in ...more
Craig Werner
Absolutely searing book of poetry that finds its center in Diaz's struggles with her brother's meth addiction, cast against the background of Native American dispossession and social dislocation. So many good poems, with great images that move beyond rhetorical abstractions: The Red Blues, A Woman With No Legs, Reservation Mary, The Last Mojave Indian Barbie, My Brother at 3 A.M., How to Go to Dinner with a Brother on Drugs. Tails off just a tad at the end, but anyone even vaguely interested in ...more
Gerry LaFemina
May 28, 2014 Gerry LaFemina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This is a strong book but often dense, and often it feels like Diaz experiments with form--particularly early on--at the risk of emotional vibrancy. The book makes me feel more later on, and really, I think, at 108 pages, the book can be ten pages shorter, tighter and so much more powerful because its best poems are top notch.
Cait S
Aug 23, 2015 Cait S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hands down new favorite poet. Hands down new favorite poetry book.

Every single poem in here is moving and thought-provoking and startling. The whole thing is incredible, I'm so glad I stumbled onto this. I hope for more solo poetry books from the author someday a lot more.
Nicole M. Lopez
Devastatingly good.

When you finish the last line of poem, and your heart immediately burst out of your chest, you can't deny this how good that shit is. This book is filled with poems that do exactly that.
Nov 02, 2016 Jeanette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this for a poetry class. I enjoyed it, though the subject matter is very serious because her brother is a meth addict and he is the focus of many of the poems in this collection.
Mar 02, 2016 Robyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Natalie Díaz is amazing. Even if you don't like poetry, you should give hers a try. It's accessible and riveting and deliberate. I can't give enough praise for this collection.
J. Sebastian
Oct 21, 2016 J. Sebastian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
what's the point of dog earring your favorite poems if 4/5ths of the book is dog eared? brilliant work.
Mar 29, 2016 Jackie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Sat down to read a couple and wound up inhaling the whole book. So, so worth reading. Impossible to pick a favorite.
Amanda Moore
Jun 04, 2013 Amanda Moore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This is one of my favorite poetry books of late--raw and melodic, haunting and penetrating.
Jan 15, 2013 Dana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
A gorgeous, visceral, kinetic collection of poems. Fantastic.
Jacques Coulardeau
This is an important collection of poems from an Indian woman. Important because it is poetry. Important because the poet is a woman. Important because the poetess is Indian. But we do have to get into it a lot deeper.

The opening poem that gives the title of the collection is describing this brother as a pure Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, performing Aztec human sacrifice, morning after morning, on his own parents, ripping their hearts out of their chests over and over again. The poem also introduc
Claudio Garcia

Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec is a poignant, well-crafted exploration of addiction, family, and Native American existence the United States. Moving between verse and prose poetry, Diaz draws us into what life is like for the family of an addict; how the lines between hate and love are muddied, both eventually giving way to exhaustion. This central theme is echoed in the collection’s title, which also serves as the title of the first poem in the collection, “When My Brother was an A

Feb 26, 2017 Jenni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a gorgeous and coarse collection that still sang sonorously and powerfully. The gift of this is all brutality and fantasy and agony. Poetry is quickly becoming a sort of asylum for me, it feels exactly like literary mainlining when your eyes get to drink in visceral poems like these.
Aug 10, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a fantastic book title and cover. Powerful poems with rich language and several literary references throughout (Borges, Lorca, Rimbaud, Szymborska, Heine, etc.). There seem to be three general themes in this volume: a meth-addicted brother and the absolute havoc this wreaks on himself, the speaker/his sister, and their parents; poems with a broader Native American subject matter and tone; and physical/romantic love. The way Diaz describes the toll her brother's drug addiction has on their p ...more
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Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her publications include Prairie Schooner, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, among others. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best Ne ...more
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