Born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, she lived in New York City for 10 years before relocating down to Dixie, where she is comfortably growing fat on grits and barbecue. When not writing, she can be find rock-climbing, skydiving, taking photographs, drawing pictures, and dragging her dog on ridiculously long hikes. More here. […]
IRL by Tommy Pico is
- a verse novel
- #ownvoices Indigenous literature
- very very modern – it began as a poem on tumblr [x], and incorporates texting abbreviations, complete with autocorrect filling in the wrong (or maybe the right) words
- an exploration of identities [x]
- impossible to put down
IRL is a sweaty, summertime poem composed like a long text message, rooted in the epic tradition of A. R. Ammons, ancient Kumeyaay songs, and Beyoncé’s visual albums. It asks, what happens to a modern, queer indigenous person a few generations after his ancestors were alienated from their language, their religion, and their history.
IRL runs stream-of-conscious along the spiraling thoughts of Teebs, a queer Indigenous (Kumeyaay) boy in New York City, flicking back and forth seamlessly between the mundane quest of finding boys to meet and unending anger at what has been done, is being done, to his people, between texting and karaoke, social media and memories.
what’s it called risk- / seeking behavior Each / of them a kind of suicide / that we don’t / talk about as suicide / because we’re NDN / and who’s listening Ppl / driving drunk or huffing / paint n glue for the vapors / be gripping knotted darkness / No way to lift / out of police sirens, knives / and night fights, history / class One paragraph on yr time / with the land–shrinking / dendrites of chronic stress /…/ When cultural inheritance / is generational trauma / hunted by governments / by Spain, by Mexico, by the United / States, by pathogens by / black mold in shitty mobile / homes (12)
Being sprayed / on like roaches by cap- / italism, by metabolic dis- / ease, by team sports names, / mascots, by general invisibility / of being a function of the / past, being a feature / of the land By forced Indian / boarding schools with / 20% mortality rates — / By the English fucking language (14)
You can’t skim this poetry; you’ll miss the connections, the wordplay, the flow that creates meaning through line breaks and almost without punctuation. Read it aloud and feel the rhythm spill from your lips, all ebb and flow, and you’ll start to feel Teebs’s character leap off the page, start to share his moods.
Teebs chases his Muse, sees power and poetry.
reclines undying I want America
to know who is still dying
for its sins. (20)
Sees truth and the precariousness of life, of all things.
Vigilance is all that stands btwn
us and a police state (31)
Endures micro-aggressions and appropriation.
TBQH I’m so freakin tired
Of hearing abt everyone’s maybe
Cherokee great grandma (41)
Witnesses lies that sweep history under the carpet.
There is no post-colonial
America. Look at the sun, \
so blind, or look away
in denial Bunched n bloated
A mulch of bodies
upon which we stack
our lives (43)
Experiences the contradiction of being a man, and seen as a good person to walk through certain areas with by his female friends, and being a queer man, also subject to harassment and insults, also running risk just by existing.
Come over, Teebs.
I can’t, w/anyone
until I find something
inside worth holding
and guarding and time. (66)
The slipperiness of knowledge. The knowledge that your death was a plan, that the state planned for your parents to not exist.
Books are fallible, towers
of letters with the power
you give them.
never intended for me to live (70)
Teebs loves language, loves poetry, loves communication, impossible as it is – but how to love language when language itself is not neutral? When language is a piece of genocide?
Language is history — poly-
phony of conquest. So
is absence of language. […]
They cut [Grandma’s] hair,
forbid her from speaking
Kumeyaay, forbid heathen
religion Say everything
she knows is wrong profane
She is wrong profane Her
body her face her voice her
language The crinkle
in the corner of her eyes
when kitty chases a dust
bunny. All of it wrong. (73)
Is it wrong to say I’m bitter
that there’s one surviving
native speaker on my Rez? (82)
Right/Wrong, Binary is
another weapon of the
oppressor Justifies conquest
And is a method to ensure
survivors, if there are any, will
always question their worth
to literally just live. (87-88)
if that input, the don’t say
piranhas of don’t say biting
self-criticism will ever
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