Cranes, Mafiosos, and a Polaroid Camera

By Natalie Diaz

I had a few days left of my stay at the crane sanctuary
in Kearney, Nebraska, when my brother called. It was 3:24 a.m.
It’s me
, he said. It’s your brother. He had taken apart

another Polaroid camera and needed me to explain how
to put it back together. His voice was a snare drum, knocking
and quick. He was crying. I didn’t want to wake the other visitors,

and I knew he’d keep calling, hour after hour, day after day,
lifetime after miserable lifetime, until I answered. I slid out of bed.
Tell me what to do. You know what to do
, he pleaded.

I should know how to help my brother by now. He and I
have had this exact conversation before—if I love him,
if I really love him, why haven’t I learned to reassemble

a Polaroid camera? Instead, I told him about the sandhill cranes,
the way they dance—moving into and giving way to one another,
bowing down, cresting and collapsing their wings,

necks and shoulders silver curls of smoky rhythm—
but he didn’t believe me. My brother believes the mafia
placed a transmitter deep within his Polaroid camera,

but he can’t believe in dancing cranes. You think this is a joke?
he whispers. These are fucking Mafiosos I’m talking about.
You’re probably next.
He hung up on me.

That dawn, I aimed my digital camera at the sky
until the last of an island of late-rising cranes lifted into the metallic
air—I couldn’t take my eyes from the barrel of lens, my finger,

fast trigger against the black skeleton of the camera. I wondered
what it would look like cracked open to its upside-down mirrors
and polished levers, how many screws there were, how many lantern-lit

cranes might come unfurling out of that cage. I wondered
what I would look like if the darkened chambers of my body
were unlocked. What streams of light might escape me and reveal

about the things I collect and hide, and is there a difference
between aperture and wound. Mostly, I wondered where
my brother keeps getting those goddamned Polaroid cameras.


Natalie Diaz, “Cranes, Mafiosos, and a Polaroid Camera” from Postcolonial Love Poem. Copyright © 2020 by Natalie Diaz. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, All rights reserved.