could these scaly oarsmen ever pose?
She dodged Miro’s famished halo
of animalcules, Picasso’s rutting minotaur,
Tanguy’s liquid, probing pebbles.
Deflected Dali’s softening emissions.
Sidestepped Duchamp’s fractured descent.
Her Cerberus grew far more heads
than most. She kept the one whose kiss
she chose to return, and killed
any others who rashly fought off sleep.
Compared to them, this boatful of lizards,
this hooded ferryman with forked tongue
has no hope in hell of harming her.
She looks back
at the red-gowned women,
the graceful petals of their heads,
pale orchid blooms, nodding
with the rhythm of the wind.
Will they warn her
if her next step goes awry?
She’d first glimpsed them in the English gardens
where she frolicked as a girl, but
they never spoke, offered no chat,
unlike the slow, thoughtful statues
or the stained glass peacocks who
would happily shriek her ears off—
Don’t let them send you away, they pleaded,
Come back to us, come back to us.
How she tried, rebelled against her schoolmasters
whether at work or play, kept her attention
focused in other space, the space she meant to see.
How tight the sheets they wrapped her in
to trap her, drag her silent from the hedgerow maze.
No matter how shallow her footprints,
the thunderous black beast sniffed out her path,
the stone of her father’s face crowning its shoulders,
battlements shielding his ears, eyes empty
as her hopes of escape. She would be a gift
to the King, a dainty mosaic mortared
in his courtyard, a bauble of fancied flesh.
She attempted epic quests, all the time
the tether-thread coiled around her wrist,
drawing her back to the drawing room.
Until the orchid maids nodded.
The tunnel to their altar opened in his chest,
this silver-haired, sly-smiling German,
rimmed with light, shaded with night,
the passage opening and opening into his
body and beyond, her thread redirected inside,
a guide to navigate a new labyrinth—
she left a chortling hyena in her ballroom clothes
and stole off to Paris, walked naked
past the all-consuming artists’ eyes
and told that dirty Spaniard Miro
to fetch his own damn cigarettes.
Her Max, already wed; but he could not
and would not deny her.
And the demons
climbed from blood-soaked soil,
too many to resist, and pried him away;
laughing through dog fangs,
kicking with jackboots,
snarling with panther muzzles,
armored with Panzer hide,
running her down as she fled,
carrying her into the Spanish asylum
where they pinned her down and
racked her with volts, poisoned her brain,
ground against her bucking spirit,
quested to invade the maze, hunting
for the gate she desperately held shut.
Her father sent a rescuer by submarine
but as the taxi rushed the Lisbon streets
a voice heard from the wrong end
of a trumpet whispered new instructions
and she demanded instead the embassy
to Mexico—what chance Picasso’s
startled friend would greet her there?
What chance, in the distance past his shoulder,
she’d see pale orchids nod their stately heads?
The Nazis could not reach her anymore,
nor the nouveau riche or the House of Lords.
The hero twins called on her, the hunter
and the jaguar, the grinning monkeys
and the serpent who gifted her
with feathers of every color,
fierce Frida and her monster Diego.
If she ever grew weary from their company,
she could always steal into the hedgerows,
her private garden where mannered harpies
poured tea and priestesses bowed their horns,
attendants in crow masks bathed exquisite vultures
and butterfly-winged sphinxes guarded their eggs
as Tarot trumps walked arm in arm,
witchy trinities mixed spells in flower cups
and faces peered from canopies,
playful ghosts snagged in the trees.
Asked where she birthed the wonders,
she snapped, You overthink. It’s about
seeing, about visions into other space.
Both lands loved her in return.
For decades she dreamed, long since freed
of any limits.
Stone touched by her fingertips took flight.
* * *
In the maze, dark waters rise.
The orchid maids watch.
The ferrymen wait.
She snorts at them and turns
the other way.
She walks across the forest, looming
into the sky. The wheatstalks
of her hair channel the sun.
She unfastens her robes, exposes
hieroglyphs etched on her skin.
Birds spill from beneath her breasts,
shade the countryside with outstretched wings.