Throughout the poem, “(Auto)biography of Mad,” Qwo-Li Driskill juxtaposes our conventional notions of historical narrative through their unconventional use of structure. Rather than the typical verse-style poetry (or the atypical, but commonly accepted free-verse style), Driskill mimics the format of an index. Instead of alliteration, there’s alphabetization. Numbers replace words, and the overall effect raises the question ‘Who’s writing our story?’ Perhaps graver, the poem goes further to ask, ‘What will be written once we’re gone?’
The theme of afterthought and identity ring doubly throughout “(Auto)biography of a Mad.” Often it is the case that a person’s biography is written after they have either died or it is deemed that they have already made their major life contribution to society. There are some notable exceptions when it comes to billionaires and politicians, but this is beside the point. This notion of ‘end’ ironically appears in the first line, “Subject Index” (107). Indexes appear commonly in the back of books, but also serve as maps for navigating whole works. Following this book motif, in the case of an autobiography, the author serves as the primary subject. Thus, Driskill draws connections between the poem as a map of their life, and a series of events which have seemingly concluded.
However, the poem does not become academic and dry. While the use of the word “Subject” adds to create a removed and absent tone, through the lack of a definitive noun, the use of numbers in the phrases, “Age 14” (107) and “Age 4″ (107) reintroduce the author into the work. Yet other number, such as “1492” (109) and “1540” (108) have the duel effect of alluding to historically traumatic events that negatively affected Indigenous Americans and building the central irony of the poem. Cross generational trauma affects people in the present just as much as it brings historical events to the forefront.