Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Persistence of Red

It’s a typical Sunday afternoon. My son is upstairs with a friend, painting a cardboard playhouse. I’m downstairs tapping away on the computer, struggling to meet a weekend deadline. Every so often I call my son’s name, and in response I hear a giggle or a laugh float down the stairs.

As a mother, especially the mother of a boy, I try not to hover. Still, the lack of running, stomping, or jumping noises that usually accompany my son’s play finally become too much for me to bear. Taking a break from writing, I am about to head upstairs when the doorbell rings. It’s the mother of my son’s friend, and because she is also a friend of mine, we stand chatting in the hall for sometime before I notice her gaze drift over my shoulder. Her eyes widen as I hear the sound of my son laughing behind me. I turn to see him standing shirtless on the stairs, grinning from ear to ear, the entirety of his torso, arms and back painted bright blue. His face is red with blue accents, and there is blue paint smeared into his hair. His friend stands behind him, paintbrush in hand, with just as big of a smile on his face.

I don’t know what to say, honestly, only that this isn’t the first time in my life I’ve been caught off guard by color. My son is a very imaginative child, and also a lucky one, because I’m not the type of parent who goes off the deep end over the things like this. I have lived long enough to realize the difference in a real emergency and a minor inconvenience. A quick shower, a change of clothes and a wet rag to remove the blue handprints from the stairway, and all is back to normal…or something like it.

Color has a way of surprising us sometimes; of making us stop and reconsider the way we look at things. I never could have imagined that my son would stroll downstairs that afternoon looking like an extra from the cast of Avatar, just as I never could have imagined the birch forests of Finland until I stood before them and allowed my eyes, so used to seeing trees in black or brown, adjust to the sight of rows and rows of white trunks stretching to the sky. A change of color challenges our perspectives. If you don’t believe this, go paint one of the rooms in your house a completely different shade than it currently is, and see if you don’t feel just a bit differently when you step inside.

But the absence of color can also have a profound affect on the spirit. The dull skies of winter can seep into our psyche; make us feel heavy and leaden somehow. We muddle through January in a grey daze, then February comes, and we rejoice at the sight of the blue sky above us and purple crocus peeking up through the grass. We know these things mean spring is coming, and with it, the rainbow of shades that have been missing for so long. Winter, for all practical purposes, is a black and white season, the only real color being the occasional sighting of a red cardinal on bare branches.

This brings me to red, the most dominant color in the rainbow. Red is the color of the life-blood that pulses within us, of the sash that angers the matador’s bull, of signs that tell us over and over again to ‘STOP’. I don’t wear red, because it’s much too fierce a statement for me to make with clothes. I have a few accessories in red, but for the most part, I shy away from this shade. Red is strong, independent, and assertive, traits that both sexes possess, but girls are far too often taught to subdue. Growing up, there was always some adult reigning in my personality, reminding me there were different expectations for girls, which mostly centered on being quiet and passive. Red is neither quiet nor passive. As a child, it was my favorite shade, but there would come a time I would associate red with things I wanted to forget. I would put it out of my mind, out of my wardrobe, out of my life.

But red is fierce. It does not go quietly into the night. I open a new knitting book and the first project is an Isis stole in red. I’m given a gift by a dear friend of bright red earrings. And, at my monthly poetry meeting, we each write a phrase down on paper and put it into a bag. The assignment is to create a poem based on the words you choose. It’s my turn, and I slip my hand into the bag and pull out a piece of paper. I look down at the words I’ve chosen, and I almost laugh out loud, for my phrase is “the color of red.”

Colors have meaning, symbolism, and special places in our souls. We all have personal connections and associations with colors, and these thoughts and feelings are as unique as we are. Think of a color that is a favorite of yours and write about it. Or better yet, choose a color you dislike, and use it as a subject for a journal entry or a poem. Write not only about the color itself, but what it is that draws you to it, or makes you feel compelled to turn away from it. This is a very simple poetry/writing exercise that can yield delightful results and growth. Sometimes all we need to get going is just the right prompt!

Happy writing!

The Persistence of Red

The only promise they ever made
to one another
was not to disappear.

And so it was the only one broken.

He disappeared completely
leaving behind
a trail
of red words.

“You are the least colorful artist
I’ve ever known,” she remembers a friend
She surveys her wardrobe
filled with grey and black and white
and knows her friend is right.
But how can she tell anyone
that the colors
all disappeared
when he did?

Except for one, of course.
The color of love.
The color of pain.
The color of trust,

She sits before the easel now
and dips a brush into the
deepest black.
She layers it over
the color of red,
but it persists in her memory,
just like his last words to her.

She persists as well.

Gazing at the red before her
she dips the brush into black once more
and wonders if persisting
leads to healing.


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1 comment:

ggray said...

A profoundly poignant and beautiful poem.Lovely imagery and point on observation.