I paste colored feathers
between my thighs.
I ornament the outside.
I paint my corset with mercurochrome.
Between my thighs lies
a heart-shaped palette. I paint
my corset with mercurochrome and wait
for my plaster to dry.

Black angels ascend in my dreams
and float over my bed. I hang
from the ceiling, unable to paint.
I pray for this plaster to crack
and unfurl into wings. In my dreams,
I'm wearing red;
I dance around a metal pole
that pierces my palette dead.
It gores me off my feet--
macabre marionette in the street,
glitter-dusted. Twisted. Congealed.

I'm a circus girl dangling by my braid.
I'm an undone painting,
propped against the wall.
I'm licking the skull-
forehead that wears my name
in black-sugar block letters.

The letters are fading and flaking;
I can't stop painting. I don't want to feel
violent organs crash together
in one crimson note. I don't want to feel
my bones crowded out by steel poles.
I'm fading and flaking. I can't stop painting,
can't stop pasting colored feathers
between my thighs. Inside
this corset, my bones blanch and dry.

I ornament the outside.

(Previously published, in a slightly different version, in 'The Sierra Nevada College Review'.)
Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Tate Modern, London

"[Frida Kahlo was] the only artist in the hisory of art who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings." Diego Rivera
Some say Frida Kahlo's life overshadows her art. But having seen her paintings in the plaster-hard flesh, close-up, the brush strokes, the vibrant colours and lines black and bold as a whore's make-up, I have to say I disagree. How can a series of work so personal that it might be made of the blood and tears themselves, sweat, marrow, chipped teeth and clipped bone, be over-shadowed by the life that bore it?
        I knew Frida's story before I made the trip to the Tate for the exhibition. I knew of her crippled history - the bus accident that broke her spine, collar bone, pelvis and leg, the endless operations, the pain, the beginning of a life-long series of portraits to relieve the boredom as she recovered. The loss of her baby, the loss of her love, the loss of a leg, the depression and the endless pain. But not all of her paintings were of a doomed quality and some were actually quite cheerful - the way a brightly coloured St Sebastian portrait might be cheerful. Blazing peacock colours hiding the agony beneath. Some paintings show her mixed identity - as a woman of the mestizo race, and of America where she lived for much of her life whilst craving Mexican soil. Her roots like plants into the ground in many paintings. Her love for the great painter and political activist Diego Rivera, his infidelities, the dissolution of their marriage and their second wedding.

        The exhibition was smaller than I had expected, and perhaps there was a struggle to fill the space, with inclusion in the collection of scraps and doodles and other ditherings that I expect Kahlo never intended the public to see. Still, there were other paintings, small mixtures of colour on metal, that I had not seen before, and which I loved. Kahlo's interpretation of the ex-votos of Mexican tradition. The intimate curl of the flower petals in a pearl-white sheen over metal, the newly-hatched chick laced with hazardous spiderweb. All decorously revealing the opposite of light and freedom in their darker edges.
        Frida Kahlo's work is about cycles of life, death, light, dark, feminine, masculine, contrasts and dualities. Victim, survivor, wife, painter, lover and creator, she will always be an inspiration to many.
Juliet Cook