English Major Alejandro Lucero on Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
In our Wonderwork series, CU Denver faculty, students, staff, and alumni recommend one book, podcast, or movie/show that deserves more attention. Our ultimate goal is to promote a more diverse and inclusive book and media culture. November is Native American History Month so our focus is on work by or about Indigenous people. Nominate your favorite Wonderwork by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or posting on social media with #CUDenverwonderwork.
Terese Marie Mailhot, from Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest of British Columbia, is a remarkable writer who published her first book, New York Times bestseller, Heart Berries, in 2018. The essays in her debut memoir show off her use of lyrical, metaphorical language and how she experienced different aspects of life and her own intersecting identities.
Mailhot refuses to hold anything back in her memoir, which details her experiences with depression, her time in a mental hospital, and how she fought during these points in life for herself and for her closest relationships. As an Indian woman, Mailhot also gives readers her perspective on how her identity interacts with all these experiences. Mailhot writes about her parents, coping with their deaths, and their roles in her experiences with poverty and abuse growing up. We also see how Mailhot fights for her own children, life partner, and writing career, as an adult. In Mailhot’s prose, she uses beautiful, figurative language and unique metaphors to show her story and the ownership in the way it is told.
Some of my favorite passages are:
“I’m going to die an Indian death. I want to lay my neck on the cool steel alloy of the train tracks back home. I want the death of a rez dog. Mutts can’t keep away from the tracks.”
“I can only elaborate on the small things, like her smallness, and how light her fists were—how she pinched the fat of my fingers to tell me she loved me.”
“I felt the sticky notes of my lips pull apart from his. The right love is an adhesive.”
What I appreciate the most about Mailhot’s work, aside from the beauty in which it is written, is how it provides an honest approach to discussing depression and mental illness, how to embrace forgiveness, and discovering what is deserved from a partner and family.
Alejandro Lucero is a writer from Sapello, New Mexico and a senior at the University of Colorado Denver, where he majors in English with a concentration in creative writing. Winner of the 2021 Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award and a semifinalist for the 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry, his most recent work appears/is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, The Offing, The Pinch, Salamander, and Salt Hill, where he was a finalist for the Philip Booth Prize judged by Matt Rasmussen. He serves as an assistant editor for Copper Nickel.