The brother I do not have is walking into the forest.
I follow. Watch his half-hitch gait, the slipknot of his shoulders.
Always, at the path’s end, a woman, not our mother, waits.
Between us a matchstick and the damp tinder.
Always this brother wastes the afternoon foraging,
slipping his long fingers along the rough of fallen trees.
Do you remember the song our mother sang? he says.
He pockets frills of lichen, drops wet bark into my hand.
Felled. There is something else. I unremember.
When it gets dark, he tells me I loved best the song’s refrain.
And later, the woman, not our mother, empties his pockets.
There is never enough. Never to feed all the children.
I am chaise-longued and slipcovered.
Lacquered, distracted, give me
my grosgrain, my trim. Oh, to be scalloped,
braided, blue silk valance and a tassled drape.
A sash tied back, a faux anything thrown.
Wall to wall, Persianed, hardly.
Needle-pointed or shagged, what do you dream?
I am fancy and apricot, Chinoisery and something stark.
Phillipe–ghost chaired, illumined–
–are you ready for my modernity?
I can Louis it up, quatorze or otherwise,
our excess, excessive, pounded, gold leafingly handled.
Queerly we love a sofa, but enough sectional,
what about feet stretched on an ottoman?
There’s molding to consider. Eggshell? Gloss?
Nothing overhead. How dire is the chandelier?
And oh, you look lovely. The effect in certain light.
Love me, oh, love me. I’ve been consigned.
From The Dye Merchant
- The Apprentice of Blue
…throw out the water and keep the blue.
From Libri Colorum , 15th century
The last of the alum. The last of woad and logwood.
Dutch smalt. Such blue. Like every band of ocean
all at once. Minded the smell of hands
but, oh, the blue of my own hands,
stained, stinker hands, the dyer’s mark.
Woke up blue. Hands bluer than paper.
It’s almost my second winter at the papermill.
Hauled my share of cow blood added as forbidden filler
Metal in the steam rises from copper vats,
I beat the rags harder with the beating stick.
Time enough in long hours, the awful retting of pulp,
to walk my crooked self back through the door of memory
Turned out I’d been traded, a final coin in some deal,
A man’s chunk of Persian Blue. Not much to remember.
I no longer look like anyone’s daughter.
It isn’t bad to be a boy, a cap angled on my head.
I’ve shaped my mind to the business of keeping
fingers from lifting a thing too lightly.
I’d lived for two years in Venice, if this swamp
can be called Venice. No ostrich plumes out here,
no cabuchon of lapis-lazuli veined with gold.
Among these slapped-up strung buildings
it’s glass blowers and paper mills;
the wool shop next door, a burned tatter of a building.
In the sticky heat of the swamp, in the boil of the works,
ten fired cauldrons, the men strip down,
cloth wrapped for bloomers. I wear my pants short,
keep them knotted about my waist.
I sleep in a reeking shack. Slip out mornings
While the others twist closer to their dreams
Though it’s begun, the nub and swell of tits,
I bandaged myself against notice. No one’s noticed.
They’re all chipped then pieced like mended vats.
I’m an apprentice, mostly all day hungry.
Still, I marvel at my blue palms. I lick my fingers.
If there was a bird in this story, I’d eat it.
- Fugative Color
What do you know? She would be asked that. She wasn’t what she’d be asked to know. Scrolled through possibilities. Papermill. The troughs and retting of pulp. What else? She was a boy. Everything else known was early, girlish, safe in that first house where she’d lived safely with her mother. Until the fever. She knew how fast fever could tear through a body. How her mother’s body shivered, then shivered, then stopped. Everything else she knew was from her father’s letters. Or half-knew and had imagined the rest. The winds off Cape Horn. But the rest of it, the hot sting of that wind, the way the birds were caught in the eddies of wind and thrown flat against the ship’s hull, how the wind-crazed sailor’s took the broken birds and made soup, this was not in the letters, this, the work of the the mind. She knows it is hard to get a green that holds. Verdagris can be a most fugitive color. How does she know this? But here, in a rush it is. The early French said for the best scraping the copper must be left in one part vinegar to four parts boy’s urine. But in Montpelier, its the women that manufacture green. Her father’s letters. Each day as she works, she practices the recipes. Colors and formulas. In any case, For a good earth green pigment, she prefers celadonite from the the Cyprus vein. She has never been to Cyprus. Still she practices for the day she’ll leave the swamp. Then she’ll have every opportunity. Her father’s daughter or his son. All the recipes. Of course, you Venetian artists now favor novelty over quality, she will say. Though I agree with the older convictions that favor Ultramarine from Azurite even over the best Benares indigo. Of course, lesser painters have always been susceptible to the lure of indigo.
- Vermillion Cloth
“Know,” Cennio told the painters of the fifteenth century, “that if you ground it everyday for twenty years, the color would still become finer and more handsome.”
The Art of Arts
Early gray, pink smear of dawn. I am below my yellow hillside quilt.
Girl again, I’ve hands in the dark by which to know my body.
Dark in the room but I’ll not uncover for even a quick look.
By day in the glass I recognize my yet misshapen self.
But I do not know myself in the new curves I handle below this quilt.
I think of the a carving of a woman, breasts a brightly painted
swirl of rose and gold. I am foreign to myself but hardly made of wood.
Flat on my back, I shift to feel the shape shift. Everything I’m made of moves.
And though I’m mostly jutty bone, behind my hip pads of new softness.
I feel the mound of me, the pillowy split. I’ve taste my own blood.
I try to name its color. Ochrous red. Rust. Cinnabar. I am royal.
On the heavyist day — a plush Cardinal’s vermillion.
Bunked in this room of men, I’m up before them. Fast with dressing,
I measure time against their sleeping grunts. I hide the blood cloths
and sneak out to scrub and dry them on the mill’s broken wall
If dogs make off, I’ve yet to yank one back from the fix of hungry teeth.
Now the shape of the men rising in the morning’s muddy rose.
A noisy lot, their hawk of throats, the slatter of piss and clomp of feet.
If late in the day one man steal outdoors to stand in the breeze and beholds the misplaced oddity of a woman’s rag, will he shake himself away
from strange visions and stranger desire, from the loneliness
of men among men? Will he quickly turn, cutting past that twisted millboy
will he dare to recognize the secret of her most handsome red.