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When My Brother Was an Aztec
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When My Brother Was an Aztec

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  1,523 ratings  ·  168 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 ou ...more
Paperback, 103 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Copper Canyon Press (first published April 10th 2012)
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Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read2018, poetry
When My Brother Was an Aztec is a debut poetry collection. The poems are vivid with language, family history, cultural struggle, and struggles in the body.

Before I wrote this review, I spent almost an hour watching Natalie perform her poems and talk about her poems and life on YouTube. It was interesting to hear her talk about her work to help her people retain the Mojave language, and her family's reactions to her poems. She writes about her brother's meth addiction in particular, and its effe
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A book so lush it left me drunk. Serious, painful poems about the narrator's relationship with her drug-addicted brother. Poems of passion and longing. Poems riffing off works by Lorca and Rimbaud. A clever commentary on our paranoid post-9/11 world in which oranges become the new vehicles of evil.

The power of red, the sensual attraction of apples. The knots of family love.

These poems contain so much and examine with great intensity love that sometimes borders on hate, on feelings that seem to
Jun 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to mwpm 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 rated it it was amazing
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
Such a strong debut! This is one of my favorites in my month of poetry reads. This book has stayed with me in the days since I read it, and it begs for a re-read.

Pascale Petit
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favourite all-time poetry collections, one I've read many times and often share poems from it with students. I love how Diaz combines the mythic with the sharp realities of her Mojave family life – uncomfortable but luxurious, vibrant and tragic, erotic and linguistically baroque. If I could give it ten stars I would. I can't wait for her next book and have seen samples published in various magazines that promise it will be even better.
Andrea Blancas
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2017 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).
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nancy Boutilier
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Spellbinding, meaty, frightening and beautiful. This first collection feels like it carries the weight of a life, illuminated and abiding. Diaz' poems do not spare us the bright stains of life's wounds, but they do not sink into despair. Rather, these are poems born of the magical and majestic art of healing. Highly recommended.
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.
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
her poems are beautiful, emotional, and just everything good. I can't wait to read her future collections!
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Arren Lenau
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful poetry, stunning imagery. Everything from life on a reservation, growing up poor, dealing with her brother's addiction, and then sensual poetry about the women she's in love/lust with. Gorgeous and stunning work. Makes me want to write poetry again, or at least try. Díaz's use of imagery and metaphor is powerful, and her wide range of cultural references is also impressive and interesting.
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous. Heartbreaking. Such nimble use of language. Keep this one by my bed.
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2018
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, lgbt, indigenous
Similar to Afterland in intent, but so much more intense, almost feverish. And the language--oh, the language--and especially the fluid way Díaz shifts concrete images into metaphor--damn. There are poems about cultural identity; about coping with the ravages of her brother's meth addiction; delirious poems about jealousy & passion.

Yet, the whole remains coherent, a sometimes caustic, sometimes brutal, narrative. There's tremendous skill and confidence in this collection, and, best of all, i
Jacob Vigil
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fun-lit, poetry, 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 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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.
Miguel Vega
I loved this collection; I met the author & spoke to her a few times at the Arizona Rising Stars Conference & she was a very strong figure, with a strong voice that carries her confidence and her point. This is one of the best modern-day collections of poetry you can find.
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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
“We aren't here to eat, we are being eaten.
Come, pretty girl. Let us devour our lives.”
“Worry tastes so dirty when it's spread out like a banquet.” 1 likes
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