Rivera’s Age of Industry,
Bundled in frayed coats, men sour from too long
without soap, wait in lines for bowls of thin soup,
torn day-old bread. At the art institute, beyond
mutters of why not an American, Diego Rivera’s
thick hand leaves a vision of this modern metropolis.
Blast furnace groan, acetylene sputter,
chemical froth, the grimace of men pushing, heaving,
twisting, an embryo sleeping on a bed of veins.
As he paints, an ambulance with flaring red
lights speeds his wife Frida Kahlo to Henry Ford
Hospital. Their child is too heavy for her gnarled
pelvis, broken years earlier as a bus carried her
along a hot Mexican boulevard. A streetcar
shattered the bus. Wreckage crushed Frida,
and a steel handrail entered her side, fractured
the spine, fractured the pelvis,
and exited the birth canal. Now,
in Detroit, the child is lost. Frida leaves a pond
of blood in a cool white American room. Diego
gives her a big lavender orchid and, at her request,
a shriveled fetus for the art she lifts from agony.
Preview. Gasps at Rivera’s images: pipes,
serpentine conveyor belts, wires, grime, sweat, flame,
smoke. And mammoth female nudes
for the components of steel, a black woman
for coal, a red woman for iron. A viewer
turns away, buries her face in dark clouds of mink.
Frida shrugs: More tontos locos live
in America than in Mexico.
Father Coughlin labels Rivera’s murals
obscene, dirty, communistic, even though
the panels do not show the workers killed by cops
at the Ford Dearborn plant, or the wounded,
arrested and chained to hospital beds. Preachers
charge blasphemy. They see the Holy Family
in the vaccination panel: Joseph/doctor inoculates
chubby baby Jesus/Lindbergh baby held erect
by Mary/Harlow-lookalike nurse with post-
coital flush. A horse, an ox, sheep – the sources
of vaccine – look on and, in the background,
the fine knives of three Magi/scientists,
slice, vivisect a sprawled animal for serum,
watery fluid to prolong the human cruise.
In response to threats to tear down the murals
eight thousand engineers and laborers off factory
floors volunteer to guard Rivera’s images:
the throbbing machines, the growling ovens,
the feverish shovelers, the efficient engines,
the skyscraper-leaping airliners from the bones of earth.
The dead feed swaying corn, elms, orchids. Progress.
Meanwhile, breadlines lengthen. And
Frida paints her Detroit: a smokestack and a hemorrhage,
an iron bed, a soaked-through mattress dripping red.
Copyright 1998, Robin Lindley
Robin Lindley is a lawyer working with medical-legal issues in Seattle. His drawings have been published in Seattle Weekly, Remedy, and Newsweek. His poetry has appeared in prior issues of Switched-on Gutenberg.
Thematic Contents / Vol. 3, No. 2
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