Natalie Diaz – How the Milky Way Was Made

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My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red —
fast flood. Able to take
       anything it could wet—in a wild rush—
                                 all the way to Mexico.
Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,
pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers
      in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —
      ‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,
                                Colorado pikeminnow—
Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—
      god-large, gold-green sides,
                                moon-white belly and breast—
making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.
The blurred wake they drag as they make their path through the night sky is called
      ‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—
                                our words for Milky Way.
Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet
      and empty, slung over his back—
                                a prisoner blue and dreaming
of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth
      as it gives itself away to the universe
                                of a sweet-milk body.
Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads
      of your throat and thighs.


Poem taken from Postcolonial Love Poem (2020), winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2021
Poem chosen by Emilia Mirazchiyska

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Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz was born in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community. She earned a BA from Old Dominion University, where she received a full athletic scholarship. Diaz played professional basketball in Europe and Asia before returning to Old Dominion to earn an MFA. She is the author of the poetry collections “Postcolonial Love Poem” (2020), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; and “When My Brother Was an Aztec” (2012), which New York Times reviewer Eric McHenry described as an “ambitious … beautiful book.” Her other honors and awards include the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from Bread Loaf, the “Narrative” Poetry Prize, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Diaz lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, where she has worked with the last speakers of Mojave and directed a language revitalization program. In a PBS interview, she spoke of the connection between writing and experience: "for me writing is kind of a way for me to explore why I want things and why I'm afraid of things and why I worry about things. And for me, all of those things represent a kind of hunger that comes with being raised in a place like this.”