October 14, 2016
The first time I kissed a woman, I came undone. I turned inside out; I opened, sweet and languid. I was careless, graceful, lush. And in the darkness of my closed eye, I remembered Frida’s flowers, which to me are always folding and unfolding. As I parted my lips, I felt like Frida’s flower, falling into and beyond myself, emerging and entering, going and coming, swaying but staying forever.
I don’t remember the first time I encountered Frida. I can only say that I have known her, forgotten her, known her again, reknown her differently, re-forgotten her, and then she revealed herself again (and again).
Just the other day, I found myself sitting alone in a professor’s office, waiting to discuss a project – and I was suddenly filled with doubt and regret; I wanted to have done everything in my life differently. I looked around the room, and realized that my professor had a tiny frame of The Two Fridas on her bookshelf. Things felt less strange, and I breathed out.
Maybe it’s a fetish, maybe it’s a spirituality – but Frida gives me hope that we can reach the fulcrum of our lives and survive, that we can get free.
Mostly I want to tend to my life and to lives of those around me (everyone) like I’d love a garden – with humility for how things wither and grow in cycles, passion for what’s pretty and what’s ugly, tenderness for the wildness, and attention to the fragility.
And yet, I wonder about– I long for – something that could be forever . Where does the memory of my first kiss go? Is there a rose bud, or a green thing that I could hold onto for longer than this?
Around my left arm, there’s the tattoo: I paint flowers so they will not die. Frida said it, and oh how that poem found its way into my blood.
I too will dry up someday, and my arm with the ink will decompose, and every painting will fade, and my little Frida finger-puppet (from Boston), my Frida-magnet (from Lisbon), my Frida-pin (from Berlin) will get lost or become meaningless. Indeed, I can barely remember the erotic, burning pain of her words being written on my forever-flesh.
Perhaps my profound desire for the permanent is an insidious weakness. Shouldn’t all things be in flux? Isn’t this place more endurable, more possible, when everything is prone to dissolution? Isn’t this my politics, my spirituality? – that it’s all just sandcastles trembling and faltering and soaring and swelling and being swept up by that rushing, inevitable wave. Everything in me, too, is open and ready and desiring for change, every change. What then, is the impulse for painted flowers that will not die?
I want to know what Frida held at her centre. For she too, stood, sometimes steady and sometimes not, at so many, volatile intersections: she loved men and she loved women, she was Mexican and she was German, she was a medical student and then a painter, she was healthy and then she was not. She was flung and she flung herself to the utter edge of every extreme: in love and in art and in pain and in activism.
How did she not shatter? Or when she did, how did she come back together? Was it her feminism, her politics that endured – that did the mending, the pulling, the riving and resorption? Angel Olsen sings: if it’s alive, it will do anything/and if it’s strong enough, believe it will go there/and if it’s full of love, know it is capable of emptying itself out at any point at all/just know the height you reach is the distance you could fall.
How do I refill upon emptying? How do I rise after falling?
Frida painted herself to pieces; she looked you in the eye and set stuff on fire. I believe she emerged from the ferocity of her life and her fight with a real self intact. What was the fiendfyre that let it be so? Because Frank Ocean sings back: maybe I’m a fool/maybe I should move/and settle, two kids and a swimming pool/I’m not brave/I’m not brave. It occurs to me all the time: maybe I should move, stop living outside, leave the gardens behind, forget the flowers. Be less discerning, feel less ; slaughter the thing that makes my heart sing but that makes the world quite uninhabitable sometimes.
But (in the dark, in the dark)/ I’d do anything for you.
Have I said enough yet about Frida’s eyes? I stand firm by Maggie Nelson, who writes, and we have not yet heard enough, if anything, about the female gaze/about the scorch of it, with the eyes staying in the head. Suppose I said that her stare, which never approaches me but always draws me after it, is with each look another moment of my becoming. (And it’s a becoming whose rule is neither evolution nor asymptote, but a certain turning, a certain turning inward, turning into my own/turning on in/to my own self/at last).
Is it our sameness that makes me feel more inside myself, more like myself, less false, more palpable? Or, at least, the sameness I note in the dark hair and dark eye, the sameness of Woman, the sameness of parts? Is that the most visceral, intimate eros of all? I can even dress up as a passable Frida, and I did once, with flower crown and long skirt and bright lip. Her body is somehow more knowable to me. Still, this isn’t the sameness that lights me up, that makes me real – no, and back again to Maggie Nelson: it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy. And it’s a patriarchy with so many intersecting agendas, so much crushing conviction – that to be feeling and discerning can be stifling. But there are some loves that help you breathe.
Frida laid herself brutally, beautifully bare – unashamed, leaky, gorgeous, broken, burdened and unburdened. Her freedom becomes tied up in her sacrifice. Does recreation always come with the truth-telling that rips you? Is the rise inherent in the fall?
In my garden of flowers that refuse to die – flowers that, in their inevitable unravelling emit an infinite, glorious night – there is Vivek Shraya, who writes –
this is the secret of skin
restoration begins with extending
and the end of taking.
I relent to more of the kissing; this is my truth, and this might be my feminism, or the thing that lasts. And by kissing I mean reaching beyond myself, finding and conjuring solace, and opening up so that the depth of the flower becomes visible, shiny, throbbing even. Also a kissing with tongues that go elsewhere, expose themselves, brushing up against and wrapping about strange surfaces to find other homes.
Bahar is a student from Hamilton who cares about rad health care, poetry, kissing.