Poetry by Susan J. Erickson from Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine
From the spectrum of ghosts, I painted
this house blue to guide my father
and mother to my door. They sit
with Diego and me in the yellow kitchen.
Papa’s hands tremble
as he lights my cigarette.
Mama trails the scent
of incense from evening mass.
behind his camera.
He records the portraits of our shadow
selves—the ones we want
the mirror to reflect. Papa reminds me,
Do not smile. You seduce the camera.
At Mama’s feet, the dogs
lick crumbs of pan dulce
from her fingers. She fusses
about the kitchen. From the strongbox
of her chest she pulls
a white handkerchief and bandages
my painting to soak up its blood.
Her rosary beads click, bones breaking.
She is tired of my gashes and scars.
When she returns to the spirit world,
I reopen the wounds, the palette
from which I paint myself.
This house of cobalt
is the womb where I will die. For years
Death and I have played
at the game of exquisite corpse.
Before my first Communion, Death drew
my withered leg. I counter,
sketching my heart. See
how it palpitates in my bare hands?
Frida Kahlo Prepares an Altar for Día de los Inocentes
The sugar skulls that honor my babies
are tiny skeletons of doves fallen
from the thorn trees onto the patio
of the Blue House. No sugar letters
spell out names on the skulls.
My broken body took each baby
from me before I knew if it were he
or she. The nest of my pelvis, tossed
and pierced, is flimsy as sticks thrown together
by doves to cradle their young. For my angelitos
I bring a toy truck, tin whistles, cardboard puppets,
a baby’s gold necklace. I raid the garden
of marigolds, string them into garlands
to drape over the altar, bright as lights
around a carnival ride. Their fragrance, bold
as mariachi trumpets—who can sleep?
Tonight sit with me. Drink tequila.
Sing for the Inocentes, yours and mine.
When it’s time for them to slip back
to the spirit world, we will kiss them on the lips
of their souls, where Death dares not touch.
We will pour a shot for Death. And laugh.
Diego’s underpants, pegged on the line,
flap like pink surrender flags. My Diego
is a gordito. The mercantile does not stock his size
in underwear. I have them made to his measurements,
which are secret, of course.
Diego’s appetites are as big as his belly—
not even pink undershorts deter his conquests.
For years I’ve tried to goad Diego into fidelity.
But I am the surrendering party. I should grab
a pair of his underwear from the line and wave them
like a bullfighter’s faded muleta.
Instead I sit in his lap, feed him
his favorite squash cake in small cubes
from my fingers. Like a baby.
Diego is my baby. He pat, pat, pats,
his belly as if he were carrying our child.
He leaves only crumbs for the monkeys.
What a glutton!
Diego did not promise me
faithfulness, but loyalty. Now with my own hands,
in the colors of the Mexican flag, I embroider
his pink percale with that vow. The prick
of the needle? I shrug it off.
While I stitch, I sing that song Diego likes so much,
“La Bruja.” I do not hum its melody. I shout its words.
Listen, Diego, listen:
“Oh tell me, oh tell me, oh tell me please!
How many children have you sucked dry of life?”
The scissors sigh. I stitch L. Then O,
in stitches that can never be pulled out.
Frida and Frankenstein
Frankenstein, poor fellow, is a piñata
molded and pasted from bits and pieces:
brown leather boot, stick of dynamite,
flayed skin, piano key teeth, brain
snatched from formaldehyde,
and a tarnished tinsel heart.
His fate? To be knocked and smashed
for the fun of destruction. I’ve seen this movie
more than once. But today, I show
Frankenstein my damaged paw. He steps
from the screen, lumbers down the dark
theatre aisle, kneels before my seat and asks
I come away with him, be his companion.
We slip outside the theatre, along
an alleyway to a small hotel, take a room
overlooking the street women at work.
I tell the story of how I became a monster
in one afternoon. I show him patches
and stitches, the zipper of saw marks
on my spine. Oh, damn, he is sobbing. Even he
understands it’s not going to work.
I dry his tears and send him back
to his black and white life.
Sleeping With Trotsky
El Viejo. I called him El Viejo—old man—
because he was. Old. And because his goatee
and hair were white and wispy
like the old man cactus in the garden
at the Blue House.
And I called him Piochitas—
little goatee—because I tugged
at his beard when he shot
words at me as if I were a revolutionary
against the execution wall.
With the same rapid-fire delivery,
Trotsky, ex-commander of the Red Army,
made love like an item on his to-do list.
He should have enrolled in the History
of Frida and Diego’s Love Life.
I could recite dates, names, battles, truces
of that ongoing war. Sleeping with Trotsky
was my offensive move for Diego’s audacity
in bedding my sister. Should I have warned
an old man that Diego threatened to shoot traitors?
I sent El Viejo off for further study of cacti,
to enlarge his collection of exotic species.
Let him admire their flowers, wrestle
with their spines, stay up late to see
the night-bloomers, watch them wilt.
The Ballad of Frida and Diego
“Diego, this portrait is for you
our fifteen years entwined.
Its single head, half you, half me—
the features misaligned,
our psyches misaligned.
Our brows like birds’ disjointed wings
fly over eyes askew
our lips contort in fractured kiss
the me that’s not quite you,
the us that’s split in two.
A common necklace binds us tight
with branch that’s lost its leaves
its roots enmesh both shell and conch
where sun and moon still cleave,
both you and I now cleave.
In black fedora the murderer
with dagger in his grip,
surveys his love awash in blood:
I took A Few Small Nips,
only a few small nips.
Your razor charm and green sword eyes
captured my sister’s bed.
Betrayal takes its own small nips
the wounds concealed inside,
still bleed and scar inside.
I paint Two Fridas I’ve become:
one in Tehuna dress
your portrait tethered to my heart
accelerates my pulse.
Diego is my pulse.
The other dressed in bridal white
with sectioned heart exposed
my blood cascades from severed vein
my beings juxtaposed,
two beings juxtaposed.”
This ballad ends as many do
when truth and myth collide
as Frida dies and yields her flesh
Diego at her side,
Your sacred ashes I consume
my dear niña Frida.
My being finally melds with yours,
cries, Viva la Vida!
cries, Viva la Frida!