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Natalie Diaz
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What is in our bodies to be told has come from the land—on the page, I become the creator of both, and I press my pen into them, like a rib Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
I shouldn’t be thinking of Santa Claus in March. But, this picture I took in the desert behind my house was taken in October. Besides, I wanted to write something less heavy about language and words, their power to make a thing more itself, to make one thing another. I showed this picture to my Elder, and he said, "Well, I guess no Christmas this year. Santa is dead." Which reminded by of Charles Harper Webb's poem, "The Death of Santa Claus." For this post, I’m going to share an anecdote about Santa-- The Mojave word for Christmas is Nyevathii ivaak. The missionaries used Christmas day to lure Mojaves to church. They gave them fruit. They each got a piece of candy. Sometimes they even got a present. Because Santa Claus was just as mysterious a white man as Jesus, the two saviors blurred together in their minds. Jesus was dead, they had been told, and Santa Claus appeared out of nowhere on the same day every year. Both Santa and Jesus seemed to have come from the sky, and they both kept ending up at the church. Hmmm. The conclusion: Santa Claus was the ghost of Jesus. Christmas in Mojave means The Ghost Came, means the ghost of Jesus is here in a red suit, and he’s got candy--he's Santa Jesus. Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
So if every word is Promethean, why shouldn’t I rivet them all to the rock and tear them open? What a gift: to know every word a word has ever meant. What a wound: to know every word a word has ever meant— Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
In Mojave, the words we use to describe our emotions are literally dragged through our hearts before we speak them—they begin with the prefix wa-, a shortened form of iiwa, our word for heart and chest. So we will never lightly ask, How are you? Instead, we ask very directly about your heart. We have one way to say that our hearts are good, and as you might imagine if you’ve ever read a history book or lived in this world, we have many ways to say our hearts are hurting. The government came to us first in the form of the Cavalry, then the military fort (which is why we are called Fort Mojave), and finally the boarding school. The government didn’t simply “teach” us English in those boarding schools—they systematically and methodically took our Mojave language. They took all the words we had. They even took our names. Especially, they took our words for the ways we love—in silencing us, they silenced the ways we told each other about our hearts. One result of this: generations of English-speaking natives have never heard I love you from their parents, which in their eyes, meant their parents didn’t love them. However, those parents never said, I love you, because it didn’t mean anything to them—it was an English word for English people. There is no equivalent to it in the Mojave language—the words we have to express our feelings, to show the things berserking in our chests for one another are much too strong to be contained by the English word love. But after boarding schools and work programs sent them to the cities for work, our children stopped speaking Mojave—they were beaten if they were caught talking or singing in their language. Maybe when they came home their parents spoke to them all about their hearts, but if they did, the children didn’t understand anymore. It is true, the Mojave language does not say, I love you—and it is equally true that the government was hoping we would quit expressing this toward one another, that we would never again give each other tenderness. While we don’t say, I love you, we say so much more. We have ways to say that our heart is blooming, bursting, exploding, flashing, words to say that we will hold a person and never let them go, that we will be stingy with them, that we will never share them, that they are our actual heart. And even these are mere translations, as close as I can get in English. Despite Cavalries and boarding schools, our language is still beautiful and passionate—it carries in it the ways we love and touch each other. In Mojave, to say, Kiss me, is to say fall into my mouth. If I say, They are kissing, I am also saying, They have fallen into each other’s mouths. The word for hummingbird is nyen nyen, and it doesn’t mean bird—it is a description of what a hummingbird does, moving... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Losing Farther, Losing Faster: Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” While Trying to Save My Native Language Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Mar 23, 2014