Today is World Poetry Day and I wanted to write about poetry. It’s hard for me to do it and this is something that might never change. Every time I want to tell someone about a poetry book I read, I just find myself wanting to endlessly quote poems. What could I say more than what’s written there? How could I say it in a way that expresses everything I feel and does not shrink the value and beauty of the verses?
It’s not different for Natalie Diaz’s poetry. If you want to know anything about the poems in Postcolonial Love Poem, if you want to get an undistorted image, just read the poems. There is nothing that I could say to change that. What I can do is let you read the poems through me. In me, poetry becomes a confusing but revealing string of intellectual and emotional responses that stay around sometimes for long enough for me to understand them, sometimes just enough so I can know there was something – something I do not need to understand or be able to describe in order to experience. It’s hard for someone so rational to accept that rationality is sometimes futile and is even harder for someone so emotional to admit that ration doesn’t need to be cold, that ration can be kind and loving or angry and demanding. Poetry shows that there’s a fake, unnatural distinction between feeling and thinking just because it is so overwhelming to know that you don’t need to choose.
I think that Natalie Diaz’s writing is the perfect illustration of what I incoherently tried to articulate: it would be outward ignorance not to notice the care and precision in the language; and while that is a rational choice, the level of intimacy in the same language cannot arise from pure rationality. Diaz knows she writes for a public, so she’s structuring her poems so as not to miss the chance to get the message across to whomever might read them, but each poem seems a whisper, both soft and rough, to herself and her lover.
The title of the book (which is also the name of the opening poem) is as clear as it could be. There is love after colonialism. The people we’ve tried to kill and successfully decimated, the people we still don’t allow to reclaim their identity, the people we prefer to ignore because it is much easier than repenting, these people are not only alive, but they love, they love strongly and passionately and seductively. Could you still love after you’ve been stripped of everything you had and were?
At the intersection of multiple identities – Native American, Mexican, queer – Natalie Diaz navigates her own complexity in her poems, the complexity of her being and her feelings. And those feelings, despite the title, are not just love nor should they be. A love poem can still be a love poem and express anger, frustration, desire, or worry. She knows that in order to love and be loved, you need to have a body. A body of flesh. A body of water. A body of land. The body is forever entangled with the physicality of the world it was shaped by, not only with its spirituality. Therefore, to keep your body, you need anger and power. Being sexually desired by your oppressor can never be enough. you need to be more than an object of desire or an award-winning athlete to avoid complete erasure. You need to be able to choose and to be asked for consent, need to be allowed to exist within yourself before your existence is defined with respect to a framework that never recognizes you. These are basic human rights, but somewhere along the line we forgot about their universality. Human rights are something everyone should be provided with, they say. And the saying is the only thing that could ever prove they hold that belief.
I feel like I keep rewriting the same thing over and over again. I can never say it well enough, loud enough. But that doesn’t mean we should stop. We should never stop.
They Don’t Love You Like I Love You
My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
and what my mother meant by,
Don’t stray, what she knew
all about it – the way it feels to need
someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live
because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.
I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot
of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is ‘Maps’ –
Maps are ghosts: White and
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,
knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more
than the load light of their projectors,
as they flicker themselves – sepia
or blue – all over my body.
All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time
to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me
for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than
my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.