On June 28, Wry Press released “Natives Don’t Get Haircuts,” a chapbook by former University of New Mexico student Hataałiinez Wheeler containing 29 poems and one short story. Fans of Wheeler’s will recognize the disconcerting linework as analogous to what is often scrawled alongside his sketches and photographs, while those new to his work will be brought in by the tension and language — none will be disappointed with the outcome, printed and bound.
Wheeler, the definition of an interdisciplinary artist, has already released three albums and an EP under his nickname Hataałii. A personal favorite is the song “Walking on Our Own,” co-written and produced by current UNM student Jakob Jaques. Wheeler is also a model and actor, recently working on the AMC television series “Dark Winds” as Joe Leaphorn Jr. In the past year, he’s even delved into painting and jewelry-making with vigor.
His honest devotion to the arts is visible through each facet of his work, and this chapbook is living proof.
Though without a recognizable plot due to its nature as an eclectic collection, the chapbook seems to follow Wheeler through a period of reckoning. He returns again and again to what he calls “his restaurant” to contemplate his experiences over coffee and orange juice as he barters with the beautiful yet undeniably grim world around him. “I was promised / something / a long time ago / when things were green,” he wrote in one of the opening poems, “Grinding Stone.”
This restaurant he returns to time and time again housed his silhouette for many nights this past year. Wheeler was seemingly ever-present toward the semester’s end, visible through a wide window clutching a pen with a decorated napkin before him. I’m sure he had a few more of those tan napkins laced with explicit words and doodles in his pockets,pulling moments and images he clung to and dissecting them with a sharp tongue and wit.
He is, in written and spoken word, an honest man: quiet, ever-watching and unremitting in his examinations of the spaces he inhabits.
Of the pieces compiled in his chapbook, some of my personal favorites include “Filth,” “Fear” and “Shadow’s Soul,” though as another student new to this state, I felt a personal connection to “Country Music” and a deep appreciation for “New Mexico.”
“Filth” was, to me, the hardest-hitting of the poems. “I am bred / to slop my / filth / across the floor,” Wheeler writes in the opening lines. Feelings akin to this echo throughout his body of work, but none as simplistically and openly as in “Filth.”
Wry Press founder Michael Klausman wrote that Wheeler is “bursting at the seams creatively,” and noted the “startling youthful energy” and “crackling tension” in this collection of writing, even comparing Wheeler to T.C. Cannon.
This crackling tension is best examined in the final piece of the chapbook, a short story titled “The University Powwow.” A two-page monologue stretching over the course of a day, the piece picks at split-second moments in a strangely examined but familiar world with a voice that moves smoothly between feelings of indifference, longing and dismay. This strange world is written with a sense of familiarity that all of us have the capacity to recognize but that not many are able or willing to brave.
Within hours of receiving my copy of “Natives Don’t Get Haircuts” I’d read it three times over. You’d be lucky to do the same.
Natalie Jude is the design director at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Natalaroni
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