by Keetje Kuipers | Associate Editor
It’s eight o’clock on a summer evening in the West. I’m sitting in my backyard on the island where I live, the now-dead spider my daughter caught in a jar several days ago giving me a come-hither look. The great blue heron that every evening crosses from Manzanita Bay over to the marsh north of here, passing above all the cul-de-sacs with their unthreatening flora names—Honeysuckle, Cedar Glade—each marked by a little green street sign that ends with the letters PVT—for private, for insert shotgun pump sound here, for this land is my land—is doing her croak-croak behind me through the bushes before taking flight. I like watching her cut the sky with her big, shadowy belly. I like thinking about writing a nature poem and then, instead, propping my feet on the cold grill to read Tommy Pico’s.
Tommy Pico says “What is it inside nature / that turns a color into danger.” Tommy Pico says, “America that green ghost.” Tommy Pico says, “Get in, loser—we’re touring landscapes of the interior.” Tommy Pico says, “I’m both charmed and suspicious, which is probably redundant, and also the soil of my landscape and a landing strip.” Tommy Pico says, “You can’t be an NDN person in today’s world / and write a nature poem.” And then Tommy Pico, who originally hails from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, goes and writes a killer book-length one in Nature Poem, published this spring by Tin House Books.
Nature Poem is funny and sad and fucked up. Kind of like this recipe for Indian Nachos, an ironic colonialist mash-up that actually tastes good. Though, as Tommy Pico says, “I’m cool with contradictions, but don’t lie to yrself—” I suggest pairing this particular culinary contradiction with KCRW’s The Organist, Episode 74: “It’s Very Indian to Watch AbFab”. The podcast is short, about twenty minutes, which will give you just enough time to prep everything and stick it in the oven. Then, after the cheese has melted, pick up Nature Poem and stuff your face full of goodness. As Alexander Chee says, “[Pico] is determined to blow your mind apart, and… you should let him.”