When My Brother Was an Aztec

In this poignant debut, Natalie Diaz writes as a sister who is struggling with her brother's drug addiction, within a family dynamic steeped in the mythology and cultural history of reservation life. From the poem "Formication"

You shouldn't embarrass him, my mom says,
	Understand he's a grown man. He won't stand there	
		while you embarrass him. But I'm embarrassed.
I can't understand. Why are we all just standing here
	while he tears the temple to pieces?

Throughout the book, Diaz maintains a delicate balance of stark intimacy and gorgeous lyricism. As much about growing up Mojave as they are about untangling the complicated ties that bind families together, the poems in this collection present a stunning narrative. From "Other Small Thundering"

Our medicine bags are anchored with buffalo nickels—
	sleek skulls etched by Gatlings.
How we plow and furrow the murky Styx, lovingly
digging with smooth dark oars—
	like they are Grandmother’s missing legs—
		a familiar throb of kneecap, shin, ankle, foot—
	promising to carry us home.

This book review originally appeared in American Poet, Fall 2012, Volume 43.