“Postcolonial Love Poem” offers a series of rich and sensual poems that illustrate how love is not just physical or sexual, but it is also tied to how we interact with the natural world. In the title poem, Diaz writes, “The rain will eventually come, or not. /Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds—/the war never ended and somehow begins again.” In three lines, a succinct summary explains conquest is a recurring process carried as a mindset, and sometimes, the touch of tenderness in our lives is the only way to cope with the repression.
This notion reiterates throughout this collection in differing narratives, whether it involves talking to a sibling struggling with addiction, examining a lover in awe or expressing a reverence for water as a part of the human body, even as people were removed from Standing Rock to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. Diaz continues to use the long line in her poems, but it seems that all extraneous words are clipped away, so these poems zero in on the emotional weight of light, crystals, water, air, myth, hips, a wolf and basketball, and Diaz elevates them to levels of connections with the human body and the divine. Why? Because they are all inherently connected. These poems deliver readers to that realization of how all life is interdependent for survival and sustenance.
Lesser poets would be clumsy making these connections, but Diaz makes that celebratory respect clear, much in the way that one might appreciate a lover who holds a partner as if they must be protected and stood beside for all the growth and battles ahead of their union. As a follow-up to her debut collection “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” there are poems that draw upon epistolary writing in exchange with poet Ada Limón. The influences and structures that Diaz employs contribute to the weight of each poem’s deft premise.
Whether we consider the leaps that expound upon the power of language with poems like “Manhattan is a Lenape Word” or the interpretations of Department of Justice statistics in the poem “American Arithmetic,” Diaz unfurls poems that shift and twist. Diaz does all this with allusions across the cultural spectrum from the likes of Anne Sexton, Jorge Luis Borges, DJ Rob Base & EZ Rock, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beyoncé, Nice & Smooth, and Robert Creeley who are synthesized into this larger identity that is shaped by Native American and indigenous women, the very women that Diaz dedicates this volume to at its conclusion, where the wounds are touched tenderly but with an intent, one hopes, to heal as well.
“Postcolonial Love Poem”
By Natalie Diaz
Graywolf Press, 105 pages
Newcity Lit Editor Tara Betts is the author of “Break the Habit” and “Arc & Hue.” Her interviews and features have appeared in publications such as Hello Giggles, Mosaic Magazine, NYLON, The Source, Sixty Inches from Center, and Poetry magazine. She also hosts author chats at the Seminary Co-Op bookstores in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.