|Ode to Color
A man in a red GEORGIA baseball cap wearing
with a red bulldog over his heart,
in a subway car, the smell of his poverty much too strong
but I stay out of weakness and pity:
skin has gone through fire
hands and arms and who knows how much more of him
wear the ropy scars: I watch him not wanting to stare
draws out of a pocket dangling from a long rope at his waist
compact that he opens;
the mercury pool he dips and dips his face towards
to stanch the fire (who knows what he sees)
it opens it shuts it then like a black Narcissus he has to re-open
and stares. Maybe it solidifies him, all I know is steeped
own pool, I keep seeing this portrait in red.
What's he trying to say
on Maroon or
White and Red?
Has Rothko taken away
of things so we lean
back on an imaginary grassy mat
at these stacked heavens
he broken in on our silence
so you and I can breathe and stretch
Push the button on Cornell's Lighted Dancer she glows cobalt blue.
Red Sea Bird wrasse is longnosed and blue.
Spend your life inside
framed by goldenrod
gazing at exhalations of sky.
are not poppies
but moments of attention
burned into the wall.
God's essence would ensure his existence.
Can one also say the essence
of color ensures its existence?
What color is God.
God's the color of water.
yodelled so sweetly
ears and tossed
insisted I pick a bunch
of her flowers crudely
I like that one too
blood-red rose and two pale lilac
roses I'd never seen that hue
before never seen a self
so abandoned to goodness
A color will carry you
around the world immediately
Why this poverty when we deal with colors? Why comparisons?
Birch leaves are like small, pale-yellow coins, sparsely attached
which are of what hue? Lilac, from the lilacs, and violet, from the
Red as the blonde-bearded face
by another fighting
or as miscarried week-old life
out a full week
does reddish green or bluish orange or yellowish black look like?
is not enough to show the absence of light.
What if colors at night
way they do
to the colorblind in daylight?
When you take me against the rock
still pool sizzled to buttery glare
while others leap from cliffs
in green frolic where shoal
almost hardens to fieldstripped
what will we become?
blue-toned stripes behind
the lime-green bar being brushed
by a wet black feather.
What color do you like best, Tatu?
And you, Washoe. What color?
Think of a bluish orange, a reddish green, or a yellowish violet,
the same feeling as in the case of a southwesterly north wind.
I envy the cuttlefish and squid; wish I could think color-
become any mottled hue into which I sink for cover.
What color is The Barber of Seville?
Teal-gray and teak (or bamboo)
with not a trace of red or black.
Umbria is ochre and rust
dark brown as the centers of sunflowers
keening in late-summer sun.
Bologna is always foggy grey.
And Rome? Goldenrod.
And Paris? Peacock blue and grey.
Nantucket? Grey and more grey-blue studded
with Black-eyed Susan yellow.
What about Tokyo? New York?
Which city is tomato-red? Mexico City.
But you've never been.
That doesn't matter.
I like the color of your coat.
I wouldn't call it brown.
Call it the color of bark, call it
the impasse of color.
The Knobbed whelk on the beach
whose insides caught the light
bright orange twilight
siren song we had to approach.
There must be mussel inside
It's just the shell color made stronger by the bending of the
a color so pearly rich our footsteps swung
toward it as toward the setting sun's mirror.
Diamondback rattler had colors impossible to recall or name:
snake-color will have to do. Maybe fear blanches things
of color and mystery bloods themthe fuzzy fruited
heart of the sago palm lint-covered ribs pulled back
and there the small smooth rosy heartbeats lay.
Go in the closet or the bathroom
with these mushrooms and wait
longer than you think and then
their crowns will glow from underneath
sample these chicken o' the woods
the mycologist climbed trees to pick
more yellow less orange and edible
walk along the beach late afternoon
find two halves of an Eastern cockle
still joined splayed open rust to rose
their own internal sunset.
Ancient idea that colour is afterthought.
Often when I settle down to work I begin by noting
the icy clearness of the sour blue sky.
You cannot approach color as if coming in a barn door.
Her molten hair beside the stone-grey caviar
light has tigered its way into a figure
sofa speckled red with people eating
as flecks of words glint and rise
evening sky until they fuse:
Vermilion cannot do everything
Matisse enjoyed saying,
but had he seen the virgin's vermilion gown
with puffed mandarin-orange upper sleeves
tapered to violet-blue satin at the wrists
and the startled Mary from Recanati
holding her hands at chest height
from the force of unclasping them from prayer
ready to push the air of the intruder?
Whatever else Lotto meant I know he meant
that red as did Frederic Leighton
for the sleeping Flaming June a color so stunning
it goes by many names: cinnabar red, scarlet, China
red and calypso. Even God, so this story goes-
as though the angel clothed in pastel blue
holding a stalk of lilies would pale at the task-
flew down wearing the same
shocking vermilion cinched by blue
and reached into her room.
And I could spend an afternoon worshiping
at the foot of such rich hues
When we are bathed in what radiates
we forget everything that borders
on yellow or blue. We imagine an absolutely
pure red, fine carmine suffered to dry on white
White to ward off
the distracting din of colors
Today all the colors have been mixed together.
No harmony, the result is grey, as Goethe knew
and the sky storing up its first snow, contains them all.
If I say a piece of paper is pure white and if snow
were placed next to it
and it then appeared grey . . .
Lemon-yellow-black was my idea of the underwing of the grasshopper
but the carmine in connection with the sunset is better.
Who shouted with glee
when the color blue was born?
Lapis lazuli ground up as paint once more precious than gold
gold the color a Jew was made to wear in the Middle Ages, a mark of
until Michelangelo on the highest reach of wall beneath the ceiling
of the Cappella Sistina painted Moses in flowing robes of yellow
painted Abraham Isaac Sarah all all in golden yellow
Yellow for Goethe the color nearest the light
Blue still brings a principle of darkness with it
blue) an affinity with black
for Goethe even Roman blue
in full moonlight
This placid space . . .
so blue as we thought. To be blue,
must be no questions.
La terre est bleue comme une orange
not really blue though round as?
in shadow in the bowl the orange may turn blue
There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
Enter my blood-orange frame
What color is the universe?
When asked his favorite color he
out blue (as his shirt)
like Lorca's, will always be green green.
Quotes from the following sources, sometimes edited or altered, in
Mark Rothko, as quoted in Mark Rothko: A Biography, by James E. B.
University of Chicago Press)
James McBride, The Color of Water (Riverhead Books).
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Colour, trans. Linda L. McAlister
& Margarete Schättle (University of California Press).
Tomaz Salamun, from "King of Birds," The Four Questions of Melancholy
Czeslaw Milosz, "A little Treatise on Colors," Roadside Dog (Farrar,
A color manual for painters.
"It Seems Art Is Indeed Monkey Business" by Sarah Boxer, The New York
Times, Nov. 8, 1997.
Roger Fry, "Plastic Colour," from Transformations, 1926.
Henri Matisse, "Notes of a Painter" (1908) in Theories of Modern Art,
Herschel B. Chipp (University of California Press).
Goethe's Theory of Colours (1840), trans. Charles Lock Eastlake (MIT
Marianne Moore, from a letter in The Selected Letters of Marianne
Bonnie Costello (Alfred A. Knopf).
Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions, trans. William O'Daly (Copper
Wallace Stevens, "The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract."
Paul Eluard, "L'Amour, la Poésie."
Frank O'Hara, "Why I Am Not a Painter."
Neil deGrosse Tyson, "Colors of the Cosmos," in Natural History, March