Gayle Brandeis

The Frida Shirt
I wore Frida on my chest
the night I met my husband-
a few hours later she lay
crumpled on the dusty blue
carpet of the "meditation
room" in my dorm, a wrinkled,
bird-eyebrowed witness
to our first night of love.


I bought the shirt at Bloodroot,
a feminist vegetarian restaurant
in Connecticut, the summer before.
I also bought a bumpersticker there
that read "Vegetarians taste better,"
and, naive me, I thought it meant
that in a taste-bud, Epicurean, way.
I was surprised later when men
in El Caminos and pick-up trucks
pulled beside my Buick Century
and wagged their tongues at me.

Frida's tongue was hidden
in her mouth on the shirt, however,
and, though I had never heard of her
or seen her work before, something
on that shirt spoke to me-
maybe it was as simple as the fact
that her dark eyes and hair
mirrored my own; maybe the roots
that dangled from the flower
beside her head pulled at me
like blood-I grasped
on to the black and white shirt
the way the small hand that dangles
from Frida's ear grasps onto one
of those roots, pulls it toward her,
a dirty ribbon to tie around her
braid, tie herself to both earth
and bloom.


I still wear the shirt now,
nine years later-to dance
class mostly, over leotards.
I cut the collar off, the sleeves,
way back when, and now stretched,
it gapes open too much to wear it
any other way.  The cotton has worn
so thin you can see through it,
like onion skin,
and somewhere along the way mildew
has spotted the clean expanse
of Frida's left cheek
like freckles or pox
and will not bleach out,
but I love the shirt, for itself,
for herself, as much as for
how it reminds me of that first
taste of Matt.


Shirt aside, Matt has trouble
with Frida.  I bought
a small print of hers last year,
colorful, framed by flowers,
birds, and hung it in our kitchen.
Matt could not look at it.
Too intense, he said, too stern,
or sad.  When we moved, he asked me
to please not put her on the wall-
he didn't want her energy
filling up the new space.
After some bargaining, though, I found
he didn't mind if I propped her up
in the dark ribcage of our pantry,
and that's where she still sits,
goddess of the onions and rice
and cans of soup, her energy
suffusing the shelves
like a bird
fiercely batting
its eyebrow hair wings.

Copyright 1998,  Gayle Brandeis

Gayle Brandeis is a writer and dancer living in Riverside, CA, with her husband and their two children.  She is currently working on her fourth novel, writing a featured column, "Momazon," for the Amazon City website, and compiling an anthology of women's poems about women poets.

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