Natalie Diaz, Mojave/Pima, is a former college and professional basketball player. She is also an award-winning poet, and a recipient of a 2013 Native Arts & Cultures Foundation grant. For Diaz, the sport of basketball has been both an entry into her poetry career and a favorite subject—to learn more about her journey, read ICTMN's profile of her, "From Home to College to Basketball to Europe and Back Again." Here, as the second installment of our Poem of the Week feature, a Diaz original that will resonate with everyone who's spent hours playing rez ball or just cheering on stars like Shoni and Jude Schimmel. (The artwork above is a detail of a painting created by Bunky Echo-Hawk for Nike N7's 2011 collection.)
Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball
1. The same reason we are good in bed.
2. Because a long time ago, Creator gave us a choice:
You can write like an Indian god, or you can have a jump shot sweeter
than a 44-ounce can of commodity grape juice—one or the other.
Everyone but Sherman Alexie chose the jump shot.
3. We know how to block shots, how to stuff them down your throat,
because when you say, “Shoot,” we hear howitzer and Hotchkiss
and Springfield Model 1873.
4. When Indian ballers sweat, we emit a perfume of tortillas
and Pine Sol floor cleaner that works like a potion
to disorient our opponents and make them forget their plays.
5. We grew up knowing that there is no difference between a basketball court
and church. Really, the Nazarene’s hold church in the tribal gym
on Sunday afternoons—the choir belts out “In the Sweet By and By”
from the low block.
6. When Walt Whitman wrote, The half-breed straps on his light boots
to compete in the race, he really meant that all Indian men over age 40
have a pair of vintage Air Jordan’s in their closets and believe they are
still magic-enough to make even the largest commod bod able to go
coast to coast and finish a layup.
7. Indians are not afraid to try sky hooks in real games, even though
no Indian has ever made a sky hook, no Indian from a federally recognized
tribe, anyway. But still, our shamelessness to attempt sky hooks in warm-ups
strikes fear in our opponents, thus giving us a mental edge.
8. On the court is the one place we will never be hungry—that net is an emptiness
we can fill up all day long.
9. We pretend we are playing every game for a Pendleton blanket, and the MVP
gets a Mashantucket Peqot-sized per capita check.
10. Really, though, all Indians are good at basketball because a basketball
has never been just a basketball—it has always been a full moon in this terminal
darkness, the one taillight in Jimmy Jack Tall Can’s gray Granada cutting along
the back dirt roads on a beer run, the Creator’s heart that Coyote stole
from the funeral pyre cursing him to walk alone through every coral dusk.
It has always been a fat gourd we sing to, the left breast of a Mojave woman
three Budweisers into Saturday night. It will always be a slick, bright bullet
we can sling from the 3-point arc with 5 seconds left on a clock in the year 1492,
and as it rips down through the net, our enemies will fall to their wounded knees,
with torn ACLs.
Natalie Diaz's poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec is available from Copper Canyon Press.