Ed Madden juxtaposes gender, race, and paint samples in this surprising prose poem.
In writing class today, the students choose colors from a deck of discarded paint cards
from the home supply store—names as plain as pencil point, as rich as sacred soil. I tell
them to write a poem in which they make a home of the color. One student imagines a
house of drizzle, another a home of quaking grass. There’s driftwood and cardboard and
recycled glass, the inbetween of tadpole green—everyone has their own color—a pale
white called hush, like a page on which nothing is written yet, and there’s daybreak and
gateway gray, potter’s clay, everyone their own color, their own home.
My Irish teacher explains to us that in Irish a black man is a blue man, fir gorm, because
the Irish for black man, fir dubh, means the devil. The sky tonight is dark blue, it gets
darker and darker. A light shines in the dark street like a sign, a kind of hush. I think
about the way we use light and dark, white and black, to mean good and evil, as if this is
just the way it is and not a set of boxes we put things in.
Maddy asks what her color means. She has chosen a color of plum, color of
bruise—framboise, it says, meaning raspberry. A poem starts to knock about in my
head, an incantation, almost, of sound—framboise, flamboyant, boys, laws, because.
My Irish teacher says that unlike other languages, Irish has no neutral gender, so all
nouns and pronouns are either masculine or feminine, but the Irish word for girl, cailín,
is a masculine noun.
Caleb says, one way of thinking is that some people are red, and others are blue, and
everyone understands this, but sometimes we come across someone who is purple.
Purple, Caleb says, can be perceived as a mix of red and blue, but it’s really a color on
its own. A color like framboise, or daybreak, or hush.
David chooses lotus, his card a pale pink. I describe the lotus flower, its links with
rebirth and awakening, the way that it emerges from the pond’s muck, breaks the
surface, transcends the mud and water to flower
In the Victorian language of flowers, lotus meant forgetfulness, or sometimes now
eloquence. I think of a candle, a hush, a page with no words yet. The sky tonight is
pencil point. Our skin is potter’s clay. In Japan, there are lotus viewing parties, so many
flowers achieving enlightenment at the same moment, it is said, you can hear the blooms
crack open. I think of a pond filled with blossoms, or a crowd of people holding candles
at a vigil, or a room filled with students, moving on, lifting themselves, lifting us.
Read more of Ed Madden’s work.
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