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When My Brother Was an Aztec

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  3,284 ratings  ·  407 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.
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, poetry, recs
An expansive debut collection of poems about family ties, queer romance, and Mojave life. Diaz writes plainspoken poetry that’s full of sharp wit and clear images, and she tackles head on a wide array of difficult subjects, from the emotional toll of a loved one’s addiction to the devastating effects of white supremacy. Well worth checking out.
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Identity, family, popular culture, violence, love. All the elements in this book are great, very intense poems. Loved it!
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, read2018
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
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like the cover, colorful. Natalie Díaz does the imagery thing extremely well. It's a rich dish, this book, and her brother is metaphorically sacrificed, like so many young people these days, to drugs (in his case, meth, which I guess involves lightbulbs somehow). Family, the body, love, race, and a few other big honking themes included. Worth a look! ...more
Z. F.
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we're better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
'xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they'll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they've mapped out for us.

Some people just seem to live a lot of life; i
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
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). ...more
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.
Plagued by Visions
Nov 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Genuinely some of the most impassioned, cutting, and intense writing I have experienced in years.
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
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
Paul Ataua
Mar 05, 2020 rated it liked it
‘When My Brother Was an Aztec’ comes from an interesting place with Diaz growing up on a Mojave Indian reservation, having to dealing with her brother’s addiction, and suffering her lover’s jealousy, among other things. She lays her life bare with a brutal honesty. I liked the content, but didn’t really connect with the poetry. Glad I read it, though.
Andrea Blancas
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I have only three words: READ THIS BOOK.
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. ...more
My copy of this book is 75% highlighter now.
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I can't recommend this collection enough. Imagery that will gut you and a seamless mix of traditions and mythologies, taking on the issues of family, identity, history, and suffering from the inside and not just as a spectator. "Why I hate raisins" is a better love poem than most that would call themselves that. ...more
Apr 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Diaz’s debut collection tackles big questions intelligently and sympathetically. While I found her more recent collection more powerful, the poems here detailing her family’s struggles with her brother’s drug addiction were very moving.
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
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
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indigenous, lgbtq, poetry
the poems just kept getting better and better.

If Eve Side-Stealer and Mary Busted-Chest Ruled the World

What if Eve was an Indian
& Adam was never kneaded
from the earth, Eve wasEarth
& ribs were her idea all along?

What if Mary was an Indian
& when Gabriel visited her wigwam
she was away at a monthly WIC clinic
receiving eggs, boxed cheese
& peanut butter instead of Jesus?

What if God was an Indian
with turquoise wings & coral breasts
who invented a game called White Man Chess
played on silver boards with a
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I can't think of an adjective to describe this that wouldn't be a cliche, but they're all true: Powerful. Riveting. Etc. Etc. ...more
Jul 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Stunning. Haunting. Beautiful.

I loved this poetry collection so much. I Watch Her Eat the Apple is one of my favourite poems of all time and I'm so glad that I finally got to read more of her work. The way she weaves her imaginary is so poignant and purposeful, I can only dream to write 1/4 as good as her.

Here were some of my favourites:
1. Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation
2. Why I Hate Raisins
3. Reservation Mary
4. The Last M
Roof Beam Reader (Adam)
Jan 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
Thoughts will be available at on February 7, 2022. ...more
Since quarantine began, I've made a habit of reading a poem a day in the morning. When My Brother Was an Aztec was both perfect for that and not at all. These poems are DENSE. Between the frequent allusions to history, the Bible, and other writers' style and Diaz's penchant for experimenting with specific poem structures, this collection sometimes feels designed to be a studied. I noted the ones that I'd like to bring to my American Literature classroom during the fall semester when we read T ...more
Jun 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2013
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
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
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, lgbtq, 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, it's
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Natalie Díaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012. Her second poetry collection, Postcolonial Love Poems is published by Graywolf Press in 2020. She i ...more

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