I'm honored to announce that a poem from my upcoming project entitled Balanced, Reflected, Ignited has been featured in the first issue of Red Hyacinth Literary Journal. This poem, 'princess sikán', is inspired by the work of Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón.
Ever since seeing Ayón's haunting artwork in the NKAME collection at El Museo Del Barrio last fall, the faces of the characters in her work have never left my mind.
The prints in NKAME feature dark silhouette figures with no features except striking round eyes. The scenes depict the struggle, sacrifice, and dark magic of the Abakuá, an all-male Afro-Cuban secret society in 19th century Havana that originated in Nigeria. The group came together to protect each other from slavery, but had roots in mysterious and eerie mythology.
The NKAME collection by Ayón features all female silhouettes, contrary to what was allowed in the all-male society. Most of the works revolve around the most important character in the myths, and the only female ever mentioned, Princess Sikán. The princess is said to have found a magical fish that granted her power and knowledge, but she was advised by her father to never speak of it to anyone. Years later, she ends up telling the secret to members of a rival tribe, and the dear princess is sentenced to death.
The most striking collograph in the collection was the untitled piece known as Sikán con chivo (Sikán with goat). This print shows a pregnant Princess Sikán, covered in snake-like scales, gazing back with a goat hung over her shoulder. Down her back is a medallion that, if you look closely, seems to have some sort of religious figure like God or Jesus on it. Many people online have said that Sikán herself represents Jesus because of Ayón's religious upbringing in Havana.
This work of art shook me to my core, and standing before it, staring into the eyes of the princess, made me wonder what kind of pain caused the kind of darkness in her non-existent yet completely telling expression. I imagined Sikán's tragic story and put it into my poetry.
The symbols, metaphors, and feelings this piece portrays are beyond words, so I will just leave you with the art and my poem, and you can tell me what kind of things Ayón's art makes you feel-- because it makes me feel a whole lot.
princess sikán by kristin millard
in from the fog,
her eyes beckon all truth and scream
beyond the ocean. beyond the sea
every word that cannot be spoken somehow grasps outward from
deadly gaunt air.
the pitch-black curves of her
body, swollen center, supporting
a life beyond her own. a life that
will never see light or hear her sweet song,
after what she's done. after
what they'll do to her.
some secrets are too lavish,
and filling up the darkness with
this excutioner's lore
of a lowly princess is a certain airtight fate,
more than all the men in the world
could ever bear. because they could never.
by the blood of the lamb
and the testimony of her only child
devoid of life, for it was all she could give--
and the life of the earth shatters under her palms, her hands lining the dirt
road delivering her own into evil.
for it was all she could give.
her people will feast on desperate
traditions, enchanted scales on a
serpent too slick to grasp, the only
leftovers the eyes of dear Sikán,
piercing the black night's shadow.