“American Arithmetic”

A Poem From Natalie Diaz, Who Was Just Named a 2018 MacArthur Fellow

October 5, 2018  By Natalie Diaz
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Native Americans make up less than
one percent of the population of America.
0.8 percent of 100 percent.

O, mine efficient country.

I do not remember the days before America—
I do not remember the days when we were all here.

Police kill Native Americans more
than any other race. Race is a funny word.
Race implies someone will win,
implies I have as good a chance of winning as

We all know who wins a race that isn’t a race.

Native Americans make up 1.9 percent of all
police killings, higher than any race,
and we exist as .8 percent of all Americans.

Sometimes race means run.

I’m not good at math—can you blame me?
I’ve had an American education.

We are Americans, and we are less than 1 percent
of Americans. We do a better job of dying
by police than we do existing.

When we are dying, who should we call?
The police? Or our senator?

At the National Museum of the American Indian,
68 percent of the collection is from the U.S.
I am doing my best to not become a museum
of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out.
I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.

In an American city of one hundred people,
I am Native American—less than one, less than
whole—I am less than myself. Only a fraction
of a body, let’s say I am only a hand

and when I slip it beneath the shirt of my lover,
I disappear completely.

__________________________________

From Tales of Two Americas: Stories Of Inequality in a Divided Nation. Edited by John Freeman. Published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Natalie Diaz.

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The preceding is from the Freeman’s channel at Literary Hub, which features excerpts from the print editions of Freeman’s, along with supplementary writing from contributors past, present and future. The latest issue of Freeman’s, a special edition gathered around the theme of power, featuring work by Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Eula Biss, Aleksandar Hemon and Aminatta Forna, among others, is published October 17th.




Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz received a B.A. (2000) and M.F.A. (2006) from Old Dominion University. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Diaz’s poems and essays have appeared in such publications as Narrative Magazine, Guernica, Poetry Magazine, the New Republic, Tin House, and Prairie Schooner, among others, and she is an associate professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. She is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow.








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