Two poems by Anne Champion
“Diego and I” (Frida Kahlo, 1949)
My love for Diego is as deformed
as my spine. I’d like to say it holds
me up, stirs the doughy batter
of my body into a cyclone
of a woman taunting a man
with her full skirt and jarabe dance.
No, it’s a crushed and crooked thing
I can’t live without. I’ve always been a bitch.
I’ve always been a painter.
Diego made me better at both.
Every time he touches me, he knows
my body is a desert, my feverish skin,
my landscape, fine sand
that grows nothing, but still
he toils, and I baptize
our babies in my blood.
Do you know what it is to love a man
who can turn a wall into sky,
who can make a heart into a wall?
My paintings are not transformative—
there’s nothing surreal in them.
Diego is inked on my skin.
Diego is my third eye.
Diego’s third eye is an eye
that wanders like his other
two eyes. And Diego makes
me so female that my hair grows
into a noose. Like a man,
he watches. Like a man, he needs
his hands to kill me. Like a man,
he can set my body aflame
without a match, crush me
into pieces like a puzzle, like the trolleybus
did, my first accident. And Diego,
my second, who hammers nails
into my joints and I split open
like a cadaver on an autopsy table.
This is as real as it gets.
Please Tell Me This about Helen Keller
You are the first woman I remember
whose story was meant to be a lesson:
Stop complaining. God is real. Rise above adversity.
What I saw was a person double cursed:
woman and disabled, damsel and victim.
You learned to turn touch into letters
and it was a miracle that they didn’t leave
you trapped in your head like the madwoman
in the attic. But what I really wanted
to hear is that you knew the way the trees bruise
and then shed all their colors like dead skin.
Not that you saw it, but that you felt it,
as true as a pulse, that once you touched
someone’s lips to listen to him, but
there was no alphabet for desire.
That his lips met yours and you saw
the way coal glows before it produces
the flame. I wanted to know that he wanted
to marry you, and you saw the fall’s red leaves
as they wailed at you like a clanging alarm,
and you knew—that the trees were doing this
all your life, going skeletal for winter,
but always coming back, that he ran his fingers
through your hair and coaxed you into colors
you glimpsed in your kaleidoscopic dreams.
Tell me that he truly saw you.
Tell me they didn’t force you to be a saint.
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013) and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, forthcoming). Her work appears in Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Prairie Schooner, The Pinch, New South, Redivider, PANK, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient.
(Front page image via)