Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
I think it’s the audacity, the insouciant composure.
Christ’s martyrdom appropriated.
Mexico, and life-beyond, she had her own calvaries.
Polio. Traffic wounds. Pierced womb. Amputation.
But no Santa Teresa. Flesh and politics pressed close.
Rivera always, but Trotsky and La Baker.
Her own visited self of a half-hundred portraits.
Staring. Defiant. The certainty bred of pain.
You can do the symbolism.
The hummingbird spent of luck and good fortune.
The Poe black cat with warning stare.
The spider monkey all fidget and chance.
Her body mocks supplication, even the white robe.
The neck vaunts its necklace crown of thorns, a splatter of blood.
The bunched hair wears butterfly clips, the dragonfly hovers.
The moustache refuses depilation, maquillage.
The eyes repudiate your might-be sympathy.
The eyebrows double-arch in black, a bold frown of challenge.
What to make of those jungle leaves, green, yellow?
Exotica, the plant growths of an inner self?
Magic-real, surreal, does not quite fit the bill.
It’s Frida’s sense of alien presence, her own.
A force of being held from outside herself, displacement.
Sumptuous, exact, the un-bodied body.
A. Robert Lee
This poem first appeared in Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines.
A. Robert Lee was Professor in the English department at Nihon University Tokyo, 1997-2011. British-born, he previously taught at the University of Kent, UK. His creative work includes Japan Textures: Sight and Word, with Mark Gresham (2007), Tokyo Commute: Japanese Customs and Way of Life Viewed from the Odakyu Line (2011), and the collections Ars Geographica: Maps and Compasses (2012), Portrait and Landscape: Further Geographies (2013), Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines (2013), Off Course: Roundabouts and Deviations (2016), Passsword: A Book of Locks and Keys (2016), Written Eye: Visuals/Verse (2017), Alunizaje/Lunar Landings, with Blas Miras (2019), Writer Directory: A Book of Encounters (2019) and Suspicious Circumstances. What? (2020). Among his academic publications are Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions (2003), which won the American Book Award in 2004, Modern American Counter Writing: Beats Outriders, Ethnics (2010) and The Beats: Authorships, Legacies (2019). Currently he lives in Murcia, Spain.
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