Reading Frida’s Letters in Oaxaca

Her letters waft on the breath of paper
attached in the museum, wall-to-wall, a clothesline
of quilled pain; her handwriting a frail reflection of her
shrapneled life. Frida’s images slung across her canvases,
she the heart huntress, hungry for prey: Diego,
recognition, a baby. She looked in the mirror’s
single-browed reflection for salvation. Imprisoned
by wheelchairs, hospital beds, her corseted spirit
hovers over her like dreams. Still, in her fractured
pain she stares back bold, unflinching.

That disconnected year in Detroit , colorless and cold,
with dirty shrinking ice, she painted nothing.
Grieving Mexico she wrote letters instead; her dried-
blood-ink describing her sooty clay-broken life
cracked and fissured like a Pre-Columbian idol. No
earth, no sky, no mole on her plate. No wonder
she left. Her letters, heavy with the broken vertebrae
her life had become. In her penmanship,
the punctured i,s and tortured t’s of her voice.

A light breeze breathes through the museum

Alice O. Johnson-photo by Alan L. Goodin

the papers lift, a quick show of white
petticoat, color returns to the courtyard;
sun shaft on marigold. Out on the cobbled
street a woman walks with a basket of gardenias
balanced on her head. The flowers are held
in the straw, the head bolt, upright, feet
connected to earth. The trailing scent is
the sweetest kind of sorrow.

Alice O. Johnson is a finalist in the Hidden
River Arts 2006 awards for her short story
“Mrs. Peacock Did it in the Conservatory.”
This short story was originally a chapter in
her novel, “Ash Wednesday.”

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