Our World as Color
A long prosy meandering poem
“When I see light and color, I am light and color”
I awake with colors hovering, twisting, turning, shifting, waiting for me to pull them into myself and let them mix with my blood, swift through my veins, and out they’ll come, through my fingertips, from deep inside of me, mixed with my own molecules the colors are both yours and mine and the universe’s. I arise, full of color, full to the spilling point, full to the overrunning waters point, full and bloated with color, and down I descend to my writer’s room and spill the colors out for you to see, right onto the page I pour myself out to you.
As I write, my synapses fire off, alive with energy in reds, pinks, yellows, oranges, all the colors of a blazing sunrise that makes way for the coming blue sky, all the colors of the universe bend towards me in fractured prisms, a changeling pattern. As a child, I’d place the kaleidoscope to my eye, and then turn the bottom to watch the splintered colors move, shift, re-arrange into patterns that were so alive and lovely, I caught up my breath and held it deep inside my pink lungs. The jewels fractured and danced just by turning a seemingly simple cardboard tube, and yet the fracturing did not destroy but instead made the colors more unique and beautiful.
In front of me on a white plate is a toasted wheat bagel spread with alabaster cream cheese and piled high with delicate raspberries, along with black coffee poured into a sea-green mug pitted with the potter’s fingerprints. I troll my refrigerator for the taste of color—round fat blueberries, strawberries bursting juice and tiny seed, crunchy peppery radishes, sour limes, and the blackberries I pick in the mountain cove until my fingers are stained purple-blue-black. The shades coat my tongue and recall the hues of salty, tangy, sour, the bitter and the sweet.
From my window, there is the closest mountain ridge that in turn shows green, red-orange fire, and silent sepia tones, dotted with black-eyed susan, fire pink, jewelweed in yellow and orange, rosebay rhododendron. My dark-brown eyes flecked with tiny pin-pricks of gold travel to the valley below where Maggie Valley is lost among the thick branches of tulip poplar with their yellow-orange-green blooms, black cherry, silver maple, red spruce, and then slightly to my right, blue misty gray in the far distance, the Great Smoky Mountains as they rise up bold, ancient, undaunted.
These mountains willingly offer up themselves as my subject, but have no need to preen, for they are apparent. Where my german-chocolate-colored log house is perched, I place a palm to shade my eyes, and search for the colors of my neighbors spread out amongst shade- and sun-tipped colors of you and yours and where you live and love and die.
Within these mountains are metamorphic rock with their bands of light- and dark-colored minerals; and those hiding colored secrets only found when they are scrubbed clean, or more invasively broken away. The minerals, rock, and gems, all give North Carolina a palette that is not at first evident. For the eye is right away drawn to the obvious. But if one were to peek in deeper inspection, one can find feldspar, quartz, mica, emerald, beryl, red pyrope garnets, rose-pink rhodolite garnets, and star rubies and star sapphires in purple, purple-pink, and purple-red.
I take to the porch a glass of tea the color of my father’s eyes. The slammersmack of the cabin-red screen door echoes over the mountain. In the waving of the dark shading from the trees, in the green and sad brown of the dying hemlock, in the spotted bark of the buckeye tree that holds its mahogany seeds in their green shell, in the sharp scent of the cold creek running over rocks in colors of slate, milky-white, ginger, crimson, moss, russet, and those with their layers of white gray black green, and beyond into the woods where hides the orange-colored red-spotted newt and his olive-green cousin, where hides the redback salamander, bronze frog, redbelly snake and watch out for the copperheads, and where on the ground is the cranberry rootworm, the orangestriped oakworm, and flying in the mountain air the blue winged wasp, the Appalachian azure and red-banded hairstreak butterflies, and from all this I peer through the magic kaleidoscope in my orange and pink polka-dot flip flops.
Red-tailed hawk circles, once, twice, three times, warning of a coming storm. A blazing silver of lightening rips the sky. I huddle on the porch with my earthy-rich-colored quilt made by my mother’s hands thrown across my bare feet. The wind and whited-rain lash, and I know the spiders’ webs designed by the red-orange spiders, and as well, the fragile white-petal bloodroot, will be destroyed by the rain swollen clouds that open up and pour out, releasing their heavy loads in a fury. It is over quickly, the fog arrives, and the shadows of greened trees waver, only their outlines visible. The mountains are spirits, hidden beneath the thick pearled mists, but I am reassured by their constancy, for within the fog the colors remain, unseen, but waiting. Then away the ghosts go, and the mountains again appear.
As a girl, I sought the excitement of opening a fresh pack of crayons with the tips still pointed and the paper not yet torn and faded. I’d flip through a coloring book with all those empty spaces. I was the master of my world. I could color my skin reddish-brown, purpley-blue, aqua, tangerine—I could be anyone or anything with my colors.
I lift my face to the wind, smell the colors, and rise from my rocker, leash my dogs, who I’ve only to reach out and stroke to know Maggie’s thickly-soft, mottled gray, white, and tan fur, and Jake’s sleek, slightly oily, shiny black coat. We head down the road and I stop occasionally to close my eyes and touch color, smell color. At the curve, where the creek runs beneath the blacktopped road, I touch the sage-colored mullein, its leaves velvety where up up from its center shoots its tall stem from where grows a huddle of bright yellow flowers that resemble an ear of corn. Entering the trail to the point where the creek forks off, where I found the shell of a painted turtle with picked clean bones inside, I inhale the deeply earthy aroma of mushrooms with their bright orange dome smooth-bald and their fleshy ribbed underside.
I know from a flare of my nostrils the soft colored scent of the Lonicera fragrantissima or sweet breath of spring. Stopping to rest my back against a tree, I acknowledge the heavy, hard, close-grained bark of the Cercis canadensis, and know I am in the shade of a redbud tree.
Back home, I pour a glass of wine, red as the fresh-pricked blood I wipe from my arm scratched from the reach of a blackberry vine. The birds come to call in color—grosbeak with his white-feathered breast slashed scarlet as if he’s been pierced there, ruby-throated hummingbirds dip their long tapered beak into the sweet garnet mixture. Red cardinal with his what-cheer what-cheer, goldfinch’s per-chik-o-ree, American robin’s cherup cheerily cheerily. Their songs as individual as our own voices, sing to me in color, from their call I know their hues.
To my great great grandmother, who was (and is forevermore) full-blood Blackfoot, I am too much a white woman. Brown-red skin too mixed with pale ancestors. But my cheekbones tell her story, my strength, my (some say stubborn) pride. I feel her call to me in the howls of the red wolf, although it is told they have not survived in these mountains, I have heard her howl deep within that wilded part of me, and imagine her glorious black snout raised in a hair-standing-on-end call, teeth still pinkly-red from her last meal. We run together, in my dreams, and my great great grandmother is with us—we howl into the night, calling calling calling ancestors to us, calling to the women of the ages, “Come! Come with us!”
I consider all the skin colors of the world, the varying shades of our outer selves, the organ of such mystery and argument. And I think how we alter our appearances by coloring or uncoloring the natural way we are: bleach the hair, darken the silver-gray of age, tan or whiten, cover ourselves in bright silk, cotton, be-jewel our ears, fingers, toes, and wrists. Underneath all runs the familiarity of our blood that cannot be changed by a soul on this planet, and who would want to? For our connections to each other make the colors all the more vivid and gorgeous.
After an early supper of buttery smooth avocado and plump red grape tomatoes layered on baby greens, I dig a spoon into a brand new half-gallon of rainbow sherbet, scooping out cold treat into a clear bowl. I taste the differing shades of reds and pinks, let the sweet roll about on my tongue, and feel my lips turn blue-cold. I have a sudden memory of running through the just mown grass turning my bare feet green, and chasing behind me is a neighborhood boy. We are eight years old and browned from the sun. I hide behind a sweetgum tree and he finds me there, and in a moment of summer madness, he kisses me on the lips, and the taste is sweet, his lips still cold from the popsicles we’d just devoured, the juice staining our arms. I run into the house, both exhilarated and ashamed, and hide in my girly-pink bedroom. I touch my lips over and over, remembering how his were red from the Popsicle and how mine were purple from my own, and how they mixed together to create a new shade.
The evening is arriving. I’ve spent this day with you, opening my veins and spilling colors of my mountain cove and up and beyond to forever and ever. The sunset shouts a last cry to the sky, as all is fading to what is perceived as the absence of color—to black. Yet, the dark holds the colors within, as a backdrop for the firefly, the gold porch light from the house in the valley below, the swollen moon white and gray. In the dark, the less apparent shine. But, I am ahead of myself, first the sunset golden, red, yellow, pink, blaze fire across the sky in a memory of the morning’s sunset—the circle of life-colors, beginning with the sunrise and ending with the sunset.
I am thinking of you, and how I am recording all the colors for you, so that you can see, taste feel, smell, hear, and become the colors with me. I write the colors; I am the colors; we are the colors.
Kathryn Magendie lives in Maggie Valley, and is the author of Tender Graces, Secret Graces, Sweetie, and Petey in the anthology The Firefly Dance with Sarah Addison Allen, Augusta Troubaugh, and Phyllis Schieber. The third book in her Graces trilogy will be released winter 2011. Visit her at www.kathrynmagendie.com, on Facebook at Kathryn.magendie, or twitter @katmagendie.