Survivor

Naked before the mirror, her limbs bent in wilful
directions. She was a misshapen tree, bent

by a bomb blast in some forgotten war, misshapen
but surviving in the ruins of a bombed out town

in a ruined land with a name impossible to spell.
Like the victim of a witch’s spell one leg pointed

left, the other pointed right pulling her opposite
ways. Her life was a circle, a gravitational pull

to wayward rotation. Men caught by her centrifugal
spin queued in rotation to see her flicker matchstick

shadows on the bedroom ceiling, flickering
like the wings of a bird in a locked room.

 

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Photo by the author

Down But Not Out

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been away for some time but I’m back, or at least for now. Apologies for my absence from Blogging World and the world in general. So far I’ve spent five weeks trapped in a small hospital room in Inverness following a fractured femur. Tragically my treatment has not gone according to plan. After the initial operations to repair the original fracture I have acquired another THREE broken bones in my legs due to careless handling and bad advice from Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists. And the worst news is that the fresh broken bones are not fixable. Any surgery could make things worst not better.  No one seems to know what the prognosis is.

I’m trying to stay positive but it’s hard. I don’t know how much mobility or independence I will ever regain. It’s also hard not to be consumed with anger for the so-called experts in this hospital who have damaged me and are now trying to sweep their negligence under the carpet. I have not even had a proper apology or any acknowledgement that anything has gone wrong.

Anyway, when my mind is not fried by morphine, pain and exhaustion I will try to post here on The Purple Hermit and I hope my followers and supporters will understand.

 

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Song

She who is a composition in blue and orange.
She who is ice water tumbling on rocks.
She who is top of the tower.
She who is willow bending in the wind.
She who is Chopin Nocturne 72.
She who is meeting the devil at the crossroads.
She who is strawberry wine with a dash of cyanide.
She who is the white wolf hunting by moonlight.
She who is neon or xenon or argon or helium, balloons floating on a summer day.
She who has been crash tested in extreme situations.
She who has no centre of gravity.
She who will leave dirt tracks all over your fat face.
She who has small sharp white teeth.
She who has sensational performance.
She who has eye of the kestrel.
She who is splendid in solitude.
She who is the child of Kali.
She who is revolving door.
She who is the crack in the plaster.
She who is a razor’s edge.
She who is the smell of hot tarmac.
She who is cripple bitch.
She who is me.

 

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Photograph by the author

The Day Room

She doesn’t look up,
swaddled in pink toweling.
Dinner in the Day Room, haddock on a tray,
the old queen who lost her soldiers slumps an empty table.
Above her head the TV plays silent memories,
survival of the fittest in exotic locations.
A lioness stalks prey while another dies.
She doesn’t look up when I speak.
Lips rotate, chewing, tasting the sins of the world
cut up in pieces.  Her hand trembles as she adds salt.
My absent presence, invisible bones on the edge of her plate.
She starts on the sponge pudding with custard.
She doesn’t look up when I leave.

She doesn’t look up when I leave.
She starts on the sponge pudding with custard,
my absent presence, invisible bones on the edge of her plate.
Cut up in pieces, her hand trembles as she adds salt.
Lips rotate, chewing, tasting the sins of the world.
She doesn’t look up when I speak.
A lioness stalks prey while another dies,
survival of the fittest in exotic locations.
Above her head the TV plays silent memories.
The old queen who lost her soldiers slumps an empty table,
dinner in the Day Room, haddock on a tray.
Swaddled in pink toweling,
she doesn’t look up.

 

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Original Photographic image created by the author

The Day Room is an example of a specular poem – the second stanza mirrors the first.  Please see  a-poem-for-remembrance-day  for another example.

Uranium-235

Our new English teacher wore corduroy and a Polio limp.
His hair curled over his shirt collar. His flares hung loose
on his wasted shin, inciting an uneasy silence. He was unlike
the others. I forget his name as he didn’t last.
Our first English lesson was unlike the others.
Our pubescent class took turns reading aloud
a poem by Toge Sankichi, a survivor
of Hiroshima. Can we forget that flash?
We learned about the four minute warning.
We heard an air raid siren, oscillating ice
through our veins. Seek cover immediately.
We were told to write how we would spend

our last four minutes.
This is not a test.
I descended stone stairs
to a cold, dark place.

 

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Photograph by the author

Remain Strong

Frida Kahlo is my third choice for The Purple Hermit Hall of Fame, my regular feature on disability and resilience.  I first discovered her paintings when I was a mature student at Art School.  I was drawn to the surrealist images, folk art style and vibrant colours.  It was rare to see such powerful images of pain and disability.  Frida’s work was autobiographical.  She was fearless in her honesty, exposing vulnerabilities, her emotional and physical suffering. But at the same time there was a joyousness in her painting.  Frida Kahlo was a passionate woman.  She loved people and animals, she loved the world.

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The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

When I learned more about her life-story I was struck by the many similarities with my own and she became one of my artistic and personal influences.  Frida was born in Mexico in 1907, just three years before the start of the revolution.  Her father was a German immigrant who ran a photography business and her mother was Mexican.   Frida contracted polio at the age of six.  She missed time at school and was bullied by other children.  She was set apart from siblings by her illness which left her with a wasted limb, one leg shorter than the other.  Her father began to take a special interest in her and taught her photography, philosophy and literature.

At the age of eighteen Frida was involved in a horrific street-car accident which left her with severe, permanent injuries and a life-long legacy of health problems and chronic pain.  Surgical interventions by doctors were disasterously unsuccessful.  She had to abandon her education and her ambition to become a doctor.  She spent months in recovery and in isolation, confined to a bed where she began to paint using a specially made easel with a mirror.  Her work explored identity and included many self-portraits.

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Self-portrait with the portrait of Doctor Farill by Frida Kahlo

In 1927 Frida joined the Mexican Communist Party where she met her future husband, the famous muralist Diego Rivera.  Throughout her life she was politically active campaigning for peace, equality and the promotion of Mexico.  She chose to dress in traditional Mexican clothes as a gesture of  support for her native culture and a rejection of U.S. ideological dominance.  However, later in her career she travelled and work in the U.S. where her art was enthusiastically received.

Diego and Frida had a turbulent relationship punctuated by extra marital affairs on both sides.  At one point they divorced and later remarried.  Frida was a sexually liberated woman having affairs with both men and women.  One of her lovers was the revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  She defied many social expectations of how women, let alone a disabled woman, were supposed to behave.  Even today, disability and sex is a taboo subject.  But Frida let nothing stand in the way of her passion and being true to herself. She used her experiences as a disabled woman in a positive way, channelling her pain into amazing art.  Towards the end of her life her health problems became more debilitating and she suffered greatly both physically and mentally.

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Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo

Kahlo pre-empted Tracey Emin’s controversial unmade bed installation by about fifty years.  In 1953 doctors had advised her not to attend the opening of her first solo exhibition saying she needed bed rest.  So Frida arranged for her four poster bed to be taken to the gallery and she arrived there by ambulance on a stretcher.  She stayed in bed while the party unravelled around her.

Since her death in 1954, possibly by suicide, she has been adopted as an icon by various political and feminist groups.  It’s strange that her disability is often minimised in biographies even though it was plainly part of her identity as evidenced by her own paintings.  Her art grew directly out of her experience of disability.  But perhaps it’s too much of a challenge for many people to reconcile negative stereotypes regarding disabled women and the vivid truth of Frida Kahlo’s life as a beautiful, charismatic and talented artist.

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Tree of Hope, Remain Strong by Frida Kahlo, 1946.