Provenance: Who Owns the Bathwater?

By Christy Sheffield Sanford

Frida Kahlo y Calderón grows up, makes love and dies
in La Casa Azul, her blue family home in Coyoacán,
a village on Mexico City’s outskirts. True, she traveled
and lived with others in other houses, rooms. In child-
hood, polio damaged her back. And at eighteen, in a bus
accident, a metal handrail impaled her pelvis and spine.

Thirty surgeries, sex and art help relieve her pain. Frida
runs a hot bath. Steam rises. In the tub, eyebrows cease  
their duel over her nose. She has no memories of rubber  
ducks and bubblebaths or the soothing feel of a parent
skimming her skin with a washcloth. She falls into a
reverie. She steps from her soak, towels off.  

Frida wraps herself in a rose rebozo and slips into
her studio to paint the Boschian vision, a tub-scape
hell. She mirrors her crimson toenails in a bath of
nightmare vignettes:

     a smoking skyscraper is stuffed inside a volcano;
     a woman, perhaps pregnant, bleeds from the mouth;
     a rope tightens around her drowning neck, meanwhile
     a mosquito, worm and tiny dancer walk the same rope;
     belly-up, red-headed, white-breasted bird mimics her.

On seeing “What the Water Gave Me,” André Breton 
anoints Frida “a Surrealist.” He calls her art a bomb
wrapped in ribbon. To settle a $400 debt, she gives
the weapon to Nick Muray, her heavy-lidded lover
with the Hungarian accent. She weaves a ten-year
affair with the star photographer-Olympic fencer
in and out of her marriage to Diego.

Pull the plug, let horror swirl down the drain. 
But consider, half a century later, the art 
sold for five million plus at Sotheby’s.
And consider your role in destroying 
a masterpiece. Not to mention, your 
heart docilely entering the flow, 
seeping into waters of Lethe. 
Gone sloughed skin, stray 
strands of hair. The 
empathy you felt 
for yourself.


Christy Sheffield Sanford lives and works in St. Augustine, Florida. She has won an NEA in Poetry and is the author of seven small press books, including Only the Nude Can Redeem the Landscape and The Cowrie Shell Piece (Baroque and Rococo Strains). Her digital animations have appeared in numerous online magazines such as Amp, Atticus Review and Open: a Journal of Arts & Literature.

Image: Original painting, acrylic on canvas, Brianna Keeper