frida kahlo

TT: Thursday, June 08, 2006 - Loosing babies

On Throwback Thursdays I will post old posts from my blog at They reveal some of my early thoughts on the project now titled, Patient.

In this post, I am working through some of the connections made between my work and Frida Kahlo, a source of real inspiration for my writing and visual art. I am also considering the connection between the medical ordeal and dreams I had that really reveal a fear of losing my creativity. 

For Margaret Garner, La Llorona, and myself.

Colored women and lost babies, or lost mothers is something that is on the minds of everyone. 

Particulalrly white folk.

Racism does not work if we humanize folk enough for them to be decent mothers. 
-welfare queen
-crack babies…

So goes another aspect of power–the process of dehumanization, to rip away the liberatory tool of mothering, of nurturing. 

Don’t get me wrong. I do not presume we (particularly women) need to feel any kind of maternal instinct. That is not what I would like to convey here. I am only talking about the power of mothering, and the power of nurturing. The two are linked, but not inextricably… or maybe…

Besides nurturing/mothering children… how do we nurture/mother ourselves? Each other?

So I got to thinking about mothering and colored women. Two central figures popped up in my mind. Margaret Garner (the real life woman who inspire Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved), and La Llorona.

I thought about these both because they are both women who lost children by their own hands. These women also have ties to their race that narrate a specific history of European dominance over the wombs of women of color. 

Margaret Garner kills her children, but does not succeed in killing them all, she is caught, arrested, and put on trial for killing her children during an escape attempt. Her story becomes a trope for abolitionist agendas (I do not say this in an entirely derogatory way…) and her case is dismissed. She is sent back to her owner to work for the rest of her life.

the lost baby poem*

the time i dropped yout almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

Although La Llorona has many stories attached to her legend, what seems to remain constant is that she is in some ways, an indigenous woman, more tied to Xicana/o people than the Colonizers. Her loss of children, in many legends represent a greater loss for the race, which makes her story a cautionary tale.

La Llorona**

Si porque te quiero quieres llorona 
que yo, la muerte reciba

si porque te quiero quieres llorona
que yo, la muerte reciba

que se haga tu voluntad
ay llorona
por suerte de Dios no viva

que se haga tu voluntad
ay llorona
por suerte de Dios no viva

Me. I used to have a series of dead baby dreams. One in which I narrate the dream in multiple voices, but always myself. I am a child, a teenager and a mother all in one. I tell how “my mother” (who is also myself) and I go to the clinic for her/me to get an abortion. At one point in the dream everything is illustrated, as if a child drew it. There was, of course, a crowd of anti-abortion protesters who blocked out path, but we continued on…

To Solomon***

They say there are consequences 
for love 
in this day and age
where a man can tell me
what to do with my body
that i am beautiful
and rubber takes out all
the feeling
and feeling takes out all
the poison
and here’s two-hundred 
to cover up my mistake

The clinic was built like an outdoor school in southern california, where classes are held in a series of connected bungalows. On the doors of each room had an outline of a foot on its door. These feet were different shades of brown, I guess to designate the color of the child aborted. Me and myself enter a room that does not quite match the baby I would have.

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car we would have made the thin
walk over genese hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers’ hands
you would have fallen nacked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

The baby is produced full term. It cries, it’s head is poked in by some mechanical device and it dies immediately painlessly. I am now only the mother, blood between my legs. I look up at the doctor in horror… I feel regret. She says, “You have reached parity.” I wake up.

(side note on this dream, I never before this dream knew that parity is actually a medical term used to describe the number of live births a woman has… trippy.)

Ay de mi llorona
llorona, de ayer y hoy

ay de mi llorona
llorona de ayer y hoy

salias del templo un dia llorona
cuando al pasar yo de vi

salias del templo un dia llorona 
cuando al pasar yo de vi

The second dream:

I have a baby. How? I do not know? I only know it is mine. It is a sudden pregnancy and birth because I am not prepared for it. I have not purchased a crib. I remember the story of solomon and the two mothers, and wish not to smother my own child, so I lay it on the ground. I forget that it is lying there. I go about my business for the next few days, forgetting that I am a mother. There is a foul and sour stench in my bedroom. It is my rotting baby under piles of clothes and paper.

my babies have closed thier eyes
and slept in my womb with trust
and when they left me
I swear I hear their souls ask why
chain themselves in my womb and cry
to haunt me in my sleep
when i am awake
and when i will make love
they howl in pain
no, my brothers and sister’s stay with me
and they will stay

I am angry it did not cry to remind me that it was there. 

I wake up.

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisers
let the rivers our over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas let black men call me stranger
always for your never named sake

I have always interpreted these dreams as warnings for the preservation of my creative self… my babies. And this is true. My creative self was faultering But now, I am beginning to see that these dreams may also be telling me of myself. I do birth myself constantly, but do I nurture myself? Isn’t that imperative to a Black woman’s revolution? No, hell, the revolution for women of color everywhere, who are often sold out to carry the race on our backs and between our legs? 

Todos me dicen
el negro llorona
negro pero cariñoso

Todos me dicen
el negro llorona
negro pero cariñoso

Yo soy como un chile verde llorona
picante pero sabroso

Yo soy como un chile verde llorona
picante pero sabroso

And of course there is the real life aspect of this. While I understand that loosing my ovary is not exactly a death of future babies (especially for the purposes of advocating for certain reproductive rights), I still imagine the eggs that are now gone from my left pelvis as babies. I would like to honor my lost ovary in that way, because if it weren’t for the fear attached to Black women having babies, I would have that ovary. If it weren’t for the preoccupation of pregnancy and childbirth when it comes to Black women, doctors would have seen that the acute pain in my pelvis was more than cramps, more than a UTI, and something other than a tubal pregnancy that I was “hiding.”

but i did not mean
to lock these giant souls in my body
my own is too small
to say yes or now
to weep for my open tomb
to cuddle these babies
buried in my womb
to silence or suckle
these ghost mouths to my breast

And so comes the project of nurturing the self. Of mothering me for the sake of that lost left ovary. Caring for the right one and my spirit as well. Women of color die of hypertension, high blood pressure, and other stress related disease more than anything (with the exception of AIDS). Colored women take a ritual bath, read that novel, write that novel, laugh, play, have wild (safe) sex, love your muthafuckin’ black, brown, yellow, “tawny” selves!

Ay de mi llorona
llorona de azul celeste

ay de mi llorona
llorona de azul celeste

y aunque la vida me cueste llorona
no dejaré de quererte

i love them
but my belly has no mouth to tell them this
no arms to hold them
they should not have trusted me
i am in mourning
mother to the dead

my babies have closed their eyes
to sleep in my womb
with trust
and at night
i lay them beside me
and smother them in my sleep.

* Lucille Clifton “the lost baby poem”
* Lyrics to La Llorona, a folk song. There are multiple versions, but I present here the versus I feel are pertinant to the post.
*** “To Solomon” from Skin Religion a collection of poems self published by yours truly in 2002. © baj 2002