Natalie Diaz, “When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012) (Version 2.0)

he lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents

every morning. It was awful. Unforgivable. But they kept coming

back for more. They loved him, was all they could say.


It started with him stumbling along la Avenida de los Muertos,

my parents walking behind like effigies in a procession

he might burn to the ground at any moment. They didn’t know


what else to do except be there to pick him up when he died.

They forgot who was dying, who was already dead. My brother

quit wearing shirts when a carnival of dirty-breasted women


made him their leader, following him up and down the stairs—

They were acrobats, moving, twitching like snakes—They fed him

crushed diamonds and fire. He gobbled the gifts. My parents


begged him to pluck their eyes out. He thought he was

Huitzilopchtli, a god, half-man, half-hummingbird. My parents

at his feet, wrecked honeysuckles, he lowered his sword-like mouth,


gorged on them, draining color until their eyebrows whitened.

My brother shattered and quartered them before his basement festivals—

waved their shaking hearts in his fists,


while flea-ridden dogs ran up and down the steps, licking their asses,

turning tricks. Neighbors were amazed my parents’ hearts kept

growing back—It said a lot about my parents, or parents’ hearts.


My brother flung them into cenotes, dropped them from cliffs,

punched holes into their skulls like useless jars or vases,

broke them to pieces and fed them to gods ruling


the ratty crotches of street fair whores with pocked faces

spreading their thighs in flophouses with no electricity.He slept

in filthy clothes smelling of rotten peaches and matches, fell in love


with sparkling spoonfuls the carnival dog-women fed him. My parents

lost their appetites for food, for sons. Like all bad kings, my brother

wore a crown, a green baseball cap turned backwards


with a Mexican flag embroidered on it. When he wore it

in the front yard, which he treated like his personal zócalo,

all his realm knew he had the power that day, had all the jewels


a king could eat or smoke or shoot. The slave girls came

to the fence and ate out of his hands. He fed them maíz

through the chain links. My parents watched from the window,


crying over their house turned zoo, their son who was

now a rusted cage. The Aztec held court in a salt cedar grove

across the street where peacocks lived. My parents crossed fingers


so he’d never come back, lit novena candles

so he would. He always came home with turquoise and jade

feathers and stinking of peacock shit. My parents gathered


what he’d left of their bodies, trying to stand without legs,

trying to defend his blows with missing arms, searching for their fingers

to pray, to climb out of whatever dark belly my brother, the Aztec,

their son, had fed them to.