April 20, 2018KR BlogUncategorized

“Memory as Missionary Position” and Other Works by Queer Indigenous Women Poets

Over at Lithub, Natalie Diaz curates a beautiful bi-monthly series of work by queer Indigenous women poets. She introduces this installment with the hope that it will function like Mojave song-maps, which, “do not draw borders or boundaries, do not say this is knowable, or defined, or mine. Instead our maps use language to tell about our movements and wonderings (not wanderings) across a space, naming what has happened along the way while also compelling us toward what is waiting to be discovered, where we might go and who we might meet or become along the way.”

The first poem, from Noʻu Revilla, with the great title “Memory as Missionary Position,” opens with a bang, demanding that we look upon this girl creature:

Inside the dress, there is a creature, she

                                                              careful

 

is a cliff in a girl’s body.

And the cliff was a lizard once still             turned

to rock she gazed too much like she

 

                                               careful

 

had a kingdom inside.

The poem invites us to stare at this girl creature, into her dress even, at the same time that it warns us, with that repeated “careful,” about the ramifications of this peering. Let’s remember that looking in literature is rarely innocent and rarely goes unpunished.

This reverse-Medusa is herself turned to stone for the crime of too much gazing, for her gluttony of sight. But the questions pour forth after reading this work.Was this creature always stone, “a cliff in a girl’s body”? Or did the stone come only after the staring? But before that she was a lizard. So maybe she was a stone lizard? This shifting lets us know we are not in fixed territory identity-wise.

In this sense, the opening to “Memory as Missionary Position” perfectly illustrates Diaz’s introductory ambitions. It embodies that song-map quality of refusing to draw borders between this entity that is or has been a “creature” in a dress, a “cliff in a girl’s body,”  a “lizard,” and a “rock.”

As a poem, “Memory as Missionary Position” doesn’t give us a traditional map that that tells us what is. Rather, it provides more of a speculative map, showing, in Diaz’s terms, the motions of this woman-rock-creature through time, which raise questions about where she’s been, where she may be going, and what other transformations she might undergo along the way. The sky’s the limit.

If we unravel the central “character” of this poem, we find something astonishing that contains multitudes: a creature in a dress, a cliff who used to be a lizard, in a girl’s body, in a dress, with a kingdom inside her. In the end, this creature, this poem, and the work of  queer Indigenous women poets is similarly multifaceted, containing layer upon layer of identity that defies any strict definition, inviting us to go a-wondering.