For this Poetry Project, we asked Robin Coste Lewis, the poet laureate of Los Angeles, to invite a group of poets to contribute an original poem written in response to a work of art in MoMA’s collection. In addition to hearing these poems read by their authors and reading about their creation on Magazine, you can listen to them in front of the chosen artwork as a part of our new Poetry Audio Tour of the collection galleries.
Frida Kahlo. Fulang-Chang and I. 1937 (assembled after 1939)
The Mirror & the Ribbon
—After Frida Kahlo’s Fulang-Chang and I
The skull is a myth, the gentle
flesh, eyes black pools in the face’s
There is a rumor. Do you know it?
Privacy of the body; its
So serious we take ourselves, our
serious limbs, our serious mouth
making clear delirious sounds, our
hair, the selfish hours of our, our,
Question: What if it is not divided?
The I is also the you, the monkey
is also la selva, the leaf, the old
man cactus with its thin white hair,
must we call ourselves? The ribbon
is not a lie. The pink cord that
around both the body and the
world is pervasive and
the ribbon unravels beyond the
frame and its persistence, through
through illusion and emptiness, it is
here now, and it can hear you
Why did you choose this work of art?
Ever since I was a kid, Frida Kahlo was an important figure in my life. My mother is an artist, and when I was a kid I asked her who her models were. Now we seem to have so many role models in our lives and I don’t think she had many back then. She said Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe. Our house was full of Frida Kahlo books. Some were just pictures of Kahlo and more autobiographical and some were of her paintings. I grew up with her as a figure—thinking that this is someone who has inspired my mother to become a painter and to follow her desire to create art. This [painting] particularly stood out to me for a number of reasons. One, because it is Frida Kahlo. But the other reason is because this work is shown with the mirror. And initially, I know she gave it to the friend she gave this portrait to, so that they would be together.
What was your approach to writing a poem about it?
I love that idea of creating something that does away with, or disassembles, the idea of separateness. And so I kept coming to the idea of separateness being a myth—and that connectedness is really what this artwork, to me, was about. By being placed with the mirror, it allows us all to be together in this one space. There’s a timelessness factor to it as well: there’s an interactive portion where the viewer is going to be changing throughout the years. I really wanted to play with the idea of timelessness, of separateness, and what happens to the self when we dissolve the illusion of ego and focus on a connectedness instead of focusing on otherness. And that played a part on a large level, for me, of what’s happening right now at the border. It played a large part in terms of what’s happening in our culture globally. And how separateness and otherness and the danger of “othering” has divided us to the point of disaster. And so I was approaching it from a level of all of those things working within me.
Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her fourth book, Bright Dead Things, was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.