The prompt at Poetic Asides today is ekphrastic in nature, which is an exercise I don’t take on enough. I love painting-inspired poems (and pieces of music, too, but I’m no composer), even though they feel a bit derivative to write. Out of the four that were offered, I chose the one I hadn’t seen before, Frida Kahlo’s “Moses”:
That is some damn painting, yeah? There is so much going on in this that it’s hard to look at anything but its central figure (which I guess was the point). Images that span the gamut of world historical and religious figures; all kinds of symbolism (third eyes, milk/rain, the Masonic eye-pyramid thing) and dichotomies (male/female, old/new, mono/polytheism); and of course, Kahlo’s usual complement of just interesting images (cell division casually tossed in there) and quirky interpretations (rays of sunlight as hands, the copulating shells). And presenting an anatomically-correct Moses fetus at the center of it all. So with all that confluence of history and culture and religion, what was the first thing I thought to do?
De-contextualize it and change character focus. Womp womp!
Daughter of Levi
(after Frida Kahlo’s “Moses”)
Like an arachnid of fire, the sun dangles from the sky
reaching open palms to press against her belly: the baby
kicks. Standing on the bank, knee-deep, fingers
moving through the tickling bulrushes,
she feels it. Might as well have been her own leg,
flexing and unflexing. What is a child, she thinks,
but an organ that is swollen out of ourselves,
broken off, a mitotic soap bubble whistled into the world?
One with a name and a voice, though
she hasn’t picked one out yet. She feels the current
curl around her shins. History is a river and a sea
that we float upon for a while until someone
sweeps us up: we are all bobbing in the same
turbulence of gathered rain, each descendant a cataract
squeezing the narrative close, and then apart.
Braided stream, dendritic, infinite in length:
that is what she sees, looking into the middle distance,
heat haze like a jewel on her brow. She wonders,
does a child know its inheritance, its future,
pairs of Old World and New World faces marching by?
How many hands reach out to touch any given person
nestled in its womb? It could be so many: like a wall
of water on the left, the right. The baby kicks.
It echoes in her like the sea in a swooping shell.