A new poem by Selina Tusitala Marsh, written in response to the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Frida, the Believer
Frida was a believer
in the love of green parakeets,
bougainvillea, tulips, dahlias,
embroidered on velvet sheets.
Gardenia crowns festoon her hair,
furious fuscia, outrageous pinks,
sunlit magnolias, fecund foliage,
Mexico’s freedom unleashed.
Other crowns entwine her hair
bougainvillea thorns pierce her neck
a spider monkey, a cat, a hummingbird
pick, purr, peck.
Frida was a bleeder
from the wayward vine of her spine
to the fire in her totem fingertips
laid across her body supine
a mirror propped up by her bed
a paintbrush between her lips
pencil sketches over her breasts
painting Revolution’s corset.
Frida was a feeder
sucking life’s marrow dry,
resplendent bride in christening gown
married to pain and the Artist’s Eye.
Her insatiable appetite
made her see within her own face
the aborted dreams of a pierced saint
wrapped in silk, cotton, and lace.
Frida was Two Fridas:
Night Day Earth Sky Moon Sun.
She wore a blood red rebozo
wrapping babies, sometimes guns.
The infinite eyes of Olmeca
stare out from her upheld palm,
breastplate of embroidered olin
fissure her earthquaking charm.
The hairless, wild Itzcuintli
patters by her side
Aztec guardian of the underworld
loyal and lynx-eyed.
Frida was Frida and Frida
a mirror turned upon itself
untamed wild braids unfurl the way
stalking death with stealth.
Le Casa Azul crammed with the beauty
of pre-Columbian selves
60,000 objects bedeck
the blue house walls and shelves.
Frida’s now a million Fridas
on pens and cushions and hats
books and clocks and ceramic cups
crucifixes and tops and mats.
The religion formed around Frida
has eclipsed the husbandly sun
a ring upon each finger
encircles vows never undone.
For Frida had a fever
that burned for 40 years
pencils, charcoals, brushes
could not draw away her tears.
But by being all her true selves
almond eyes piercing the frame
we too can wear gardenia crowns
as we paint our lips with her name.
Listen to Selina reading ‘Frida, the Believer’ featuring music by Tim Page:
Selina says: “The poem provided me an opportunity to dive deeper into the work of an iconic brown woman artist who defined her own genre. After viewing Frida Kahlo’s works, I was again moved by how powerful and tenacious she was as an artist, and that in order to be that kind of woman – that kind of artist in the 1920s-50s – she had to continually, actively and agentically believe in her world and in her self. The poem speaks to Frida’s voracious appetite to explore her internal and external worlds through her artistic endeavours.”
The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are now being accepted until 31 January 2023. Please send up to three poems in a Word or PDF document to firstname.lastname@example.org.