If you travel far inside the one you love, into the distant continents that lie beyond the breakwaters and the ports of call, you will arrive at the outpost where the alcalde’s daughter in the red-striped shawl, having probably not yet celebrated her quinceañera, is playing the clarinet, and the other one, so old you don’t think she can do it, is playing the trumpet, both of them holding a single note so long that you can no longer tell the difference between the instruments, and then you notice beyond them Frida Kahlo, next to the adobe wall of the cantina, across the street from the cárcel, from which the prisoners at the rusted iron bars are spitting and shouting obscenities, as she leans back on two legs of the tottering wooden chair with the tassels, twirling her twin pistolas.
She will ignore you, by the way, and you’ll decide to wait till evening, thinking it makes more sense, and it’s true: there will be red slashes and parrots whose cries will wake you in the morning, and when you go back into the square, damp clouds will be hung in the jacaranda trees, and you will find the yellow shawl of Frida Kahlo, negligently thrown over the wooden chair.
But you will not find Frida Kahlo.
Here is what you will think, or here is what I thought: I have lived my life without seeing until now how the prairies are pinned inside the dense mountains. Nor did I realize that the Aztec canals with their barges were carrying me to mere templates. And stupidly I thought Frida Kahlo was a painter.
I woke from this dream sometime later. A woman had fallen from a cliff, and I fell from that woman into another woman and in the agony of cliffs, I fell, and found myself in the deep embrace of Frida Kahlo. She wrapped me in her monkey hide, stinking of the urine she used to cure it, and put me out to dry. I did penance on the shelf marked Productos de Mexico.
My love – if I may be permitted to speak so familiarly – is deep and shallow and urgent as the night lights on Death Row, as prophetic as ambergris caught in the wings of flies, and prehistory knows that it is nothing to please forget, please forget, please forget.
And: I will be happy to take back these words in a court of law.
How was I to know how hidden the world is? Or how the hidden world is? Or how hidden she was, necessarily?
And then to find out that the juice of the female comes from her blood, and does that mean the semen of the male too comes from his blood? I think so.
And so on that night in San Francisco in 1977 in the Haight, what was my girlfriend doing at the bottom of Frida Kahlo?
And do you remember reading Lautréamont at the laundromat? We ate in that place in Chinatown with the walled-off booths like in Dostoevsky. Perhaps it’s why Yevtushenko ate there too, according to the plaque. Yet why was Frida Kahlo lurking there in the bottom of the tea glass, and when I raised my eye to yours why did I know that I was looking at you for the first and only time, and then – my crime – why did I look away? But life doesn’t really hold on to these dramas. And we know that too. And of course we know better.
But I believe the singer in the cantina anyway. Her notes are the tide I go out on.
And so I knew her and I went to her and knew what was inside her, or guessed, and no one suspected I didn’t know her at all, and now that she is dead, this is her death song, and this is her marvelous journey, and even if the desert beyond Guadalajara has lights that we decide are signals crawling out of the mountains curving down the dangerous roads, then on this day, when the sunlight is crashing into the room, we make claims for these signals too.
Or will we waste them? And anyway, she had a little bit of the cat’s soul. Is that so wrong to say? She believed in the monkey and its lack of shame. And she fought her shame using the monkeys she built out of her shame. It was brave, brave, brave. It scares me to think even a little bit honestly about it.