Friday, 6 July 2012

A Poem for Frida Kahlo's Birthday, 6 July 2012

The Wounded Deer or The Little Deer is my favourite painting by Frida Kahlo. She painted it for her surgeon, after he operated on her spine, but the surgery failed. It's a portrait of her pet fawn Granizo ('Hailstones') but she has given him her face. There is so much that fascinates me about this portrait: the Catholic reference to St Sebastian, the fact that she is a male stag with antlers, and the symbolism of the numbers nine and ten (nine arrows, nine tines, ten trees, ten branches). But when I saw it at Tate Modern to read the following poem in front of it, what struck me was how small and faint the painting is, as if it's about to disappear.

The Wounded Deer

I have a woman's face
           but I'm a little stag,
because I had the balls
to come this far into the forest,
to where the trees are broken.
The nine points of my antlers
have battled
with the nine arrows in my hide.

I can hear the bone-saw
in the ocean on the horizon.
I emerged from the waters
of the Hospital for Special Surgery.
It had deep blue under-rooms.

And once, when I opened my eyes
too quickly after the graft,
I could see right through
all the glass ceilings,
up to where lightning forked
across the New York sky
           like the antlers of sky-deer,
rain arrowing the herd.

Small and dainty as I am
I escaped into this canvas,
where I look back at you
in your steel corset, painting
the last splash on my hoof.

From What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo
available from Seren in the UK and Black Lawrence Press in the US. Also available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.