Warning/Disclaimer: This volume contains the musings of a Midwest born and Florida raised woman currently living in New York. This volume was written in February, when the writer hadn’t seen (enough) sun, when a foot of snow stayed for weeks. Consequently, her words are blurry, heavy with metaphor, randomly assigned genders and some synesthesia. Be advised.
Observation/Added Note: Recently, my cousin Emmy posted a video of her toddler, Wilder, as he was trying to dive head first into his play pen. Emmy had filled the play pen with colorful bouncy balls. I understand, Wilder, I understand.
What’s your favorite color?
I used to ask my ESL students this question on the first day of class. It was an easy question, a good icebreaker, a way for me to see if my students knew color vocabulary in English. I used a lot of visual aids, so if the words weren’t there, my students could point to images of the sky, the sun, an apple, orange, etc. Then, I tried a more challenging question.
Why is blue your favorite color?
I did this to learn more about their fluency range but also to learn about them. You can discover a lot about a person listening to how they speak about colors. This seemingly easy question can reveal complex, personal things, collective histories, cultural associations. Plus, the vocabulary of color-primary, secondary, tertiary, analogous, complementary, warm, cool, hue, tint, shade, value- fascinates me, and I love the smell of color pencils.
I’m not teaching English any more, but I am thinking and writing about colors. Benjamin says I do this every February. During the winters, when we lived in Chicago, I used to go to the Art Institute to wander among the Impressionists for color therapy. If days turned into weeks of gray, I’d sit in front of Rothko’s Untitled (Painting) 1953/54 and pretend his work was the sun. As everyone else in Chicago wore city black and practical tan, I wore Florida pastels. I lit a lot of candles. Because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., as it is appropriately named, it is difficult for me to concentrate when it’s gray. I have to exercise extra hard to keep my serotonin levels up, and I return to colors, so I can form complete sentences.
Yes, it’s been a lot of brown branches, gray sky. Thankfully, red bounces around with the cardinals, and the deep green cedars are lovely. Still, I miss the brighter greens of spring, blue skies, sun shining for days. My favorite colors are hiding, but I am a writer. I can nudge colors to the page until they’re ready to return. I can make associations, write about how colors are related to my senses.
Readers, you can do this too. For every color I explore, please, have your own musings.
First, I honor black, all the colors combined. Black is elegance, style, teacher. She is birds I love like red-wing black birds and anhingas. Black is clarity, literature, music, history and herstory. She is sacred, and she has many names- Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Michelle Obama, Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Camille Dungy and Lauret Savoy- to site just a few. Black humbles me. I listen to her.
Gray is winter sky, acceptance, the ambiguity of reality, my hair, aging, wisdom, a color that now looks good on me. Add a little spark and gray shines to silver becoming fairy lights, kitchen utensils, bicycles, metals I am trying to understand and glitter that my niece loves. Silver is in anyone’s eyes who likes a little mischief. She dapples on water and in a Dylan lyric: There’s beauty in that silver, singing river. Beauty in that rainbow in the sky.
Brown is the winter branches now outside my window, gorgeous against the sunrise. Though they are bare right now, I remember, these branches are lungs. Brown is beauty, comfort, safety, love in the eyes of so many of my students, family and friends. Brown is language, music, a bike trail, a garden, coffee, cinnamon and chocolate. Brown is dedicated to my new friend, Carie. It was more than nice to meet you and thank you for the reminder.
Red is warmth, fire, my birth sign. She is all kinds of flavors-spicy peppers, sweet raspberries, tart apples, tangy tomatoes. Some people say red is attention seeking. I think red gets noticed, but she doesn’t linger. Red is that flitting cardinal, splash on a black bird wing, a daydream. When I wear red lipstick, I feel calm. I can hide or cry with red. She lets me. She is sassy and she makes me laugh. Lots of us witches have fun and dance with this color. Red is Mary Magdalen.
Speaking of fun, what about orange? Orange is citrus, navel and clementine, peeling back of the rind with your teeth to get things started, just because you can. Orange is furniture, scarves and skirts, autumn leaves and the wood lilies of my prairie childhood. Orange darts like a Florida lizard’s neck. He is daring, energetic. He is a ginger tabby kitten dancing with a mirror, hissing with his back arched. All of his fur is fuzzy-electric. He hops, jumps toward the mirror and back. He is fierce in his tininess. I could watch orange all day.
Yellow is warm and welcoming, daffodils, my wedding flowers. She is morning. I like to sleep, and I dream well. I love what my brain does when I am unconscious, but that first yellow light smells delicious. I could say like coffee (goddess knows I love my wake-up juice), but morning yellow is less about the jitter more about the soothe- ginger tea, lemon and honey. Yellow is the velvet ears of my first love canine, Duke, and yellow is a library. Yellow is with me when I write, the sun I need.
Green is good balance, a suspension bridge in a favorite Florida park. Green is late afternoon, how wind smells in spring after rain, how wild grasses bend on a prairie, how all trees- coniferous, deciduous, palm- stand bright in summer. Green is flora, strong, iron and everything delicious. There is not one green vegetable I will not eat-spinach, cucumbers, chard, zucchini, kale, arugula, seaweed, celery, peas, string beans, asparagus- just writing these makes my mouth water. There is a rabbit in me who needs green in her mouth every day.
Blue is expanse. Blue has been in my dreams lately as blouses I am wearing- baby blue flouncy, cobalt blue silk. I never put blue in my mouth, at least not anymore. When I used to crawl around Tampa with some lovely, naughty poets, we frequented a bar called The Atomic Age, where we drank (artificially) blue curacao with tequila or an Atomic Margarita. Maybe I had one too many of those. Maybe as a kid, I gobbled too much blue cotton candy or slurped too many blue raspberry snow cones, but just the thought of that color in my mouth makes me gag.
While we are on the subject, I also avoid certain white foods, especially the fluffy or gooey ones. Marshmallow is the worst, but my yucky list includes things like: meringue and mayonnaise. I am allergic to onions, white flour and eggs. Maybe this is part of my aversion, but I also think it’s wrong to drink the sky or chew on clouds.
Blue is a Florida summer sky and white are her thunder clouds. Holy, holy.
Wait. Where were we? I just got blissfully lost for a second. What’s next? R-O-Y-G-B…
Indigo. This is a difficult color for me, a color I am trying to write toward. On the one hand, I associate indigo with petunias and hollyhocks, my favorite Florida snakes, a talented singer-songwriter duet, wild grapes and camping night skies. On the other hand, I think of the dye that made my jeans, the dye of slave trade. I think of Julie Dash’s film, “Daughters of the Dust,” and I feel the need to get quiet, to respect and never forget the history of this color.
Violet, or any pinky hue, is power. In the culture in which I was raised, pink is associated with the feminine. On January 21, 2017, a lot of people walked with this mighty girl color on their heads. I also think of this color playfully, because I like a frost pink lipstick, and I love my pink ear muffs. A dancer friend of mine once said, “You can’t go wrong with pale pink.” Another friend of mine turned me on to Janelle Monae and her song, “Pynk.” I am grateful for this color, and here’s a chant: cranberry, grapefruit, hibiscus, pink is juicy and delicious!
That’s it. That’s my list for now.
I’ll draw this post to a close by sharing two more things.
First, three of my poems have been accepted for publication! I am beyond thrilled, because it’s been a long stretch of rejections, and I’m honored to be part of Entropy magazine. I could not have accomplished this without the guidance and critique of poets, Jessica Jacobs and Athene Dilke. Thank you, my witches. Look for my work on March 9th, and if you feel inclined, drop me a line to let me know what you think.
Last, here are some folky lyrics I wrote a while ago, in another February. These words were set to music by my husband, Benjamin and our friend, singer-songwriter, Rose Grace. Enjoy!
And as always, thank you for reading.
“Muddy Shoes and Lilacs”
I’ve been hanging my star on a cluster of green
lavender thoughts for a season, I’m dreaming
writing a story that only I know
alone on a trail with nowhere to go…
muddy shoes and lilacs
postcard in my hand
springtime in my bones again
I hope you understand
I’m a child of April, breaking through the dark
A yellow hope awakens me, and I’m singing like a morning lark
I’m singing through a prism, shining for the sky
Poetry’s the answer, every time I wonder why, or I say goodbye…
muddy shoes and daises
flowers on my skin
a wilderness inside of me
here I go again, here I go again
tiger lily bending on a hillside, fading to blue
I’m sending you a message, every day is new, every day is new