The Naming of Shadows and Colors
1. Things that Cast Shadows
Dearest Agonies of Sight,
how the world is gentle in that
whatever can be taken must be shared,
such as umbrage; and the light
can be in your eyes or the shadow
on the page in such a way as obscures
the shape—casts shadows, detaches surface,
the varieties of shade seduce:
afraid of the shadows of doubt, of
my own dreams, yet I know dreams too
have names yet I cannot recall: Do
I dream in color? The color of the world
is the skin, isn’t it—bound and bounded
trying always to escape itself, that was
the dream the world had, I had dreamed
it had a shape, a shade and semblance
…semblances and thin shapes of things De Rerum Naturae,
are thrown off from this outer surface Lucretius
the sincerity of surface suffices
if dream is a shadow cast by Mind
shading into itself, the little mind
making itself seem large in hope of frightening
itself into resolution; then dream is a kind
of color that light distorts, dissolves, discards.
But color is light, is the behavior of light
in the world. What is there to love
but the world, its things and shades and
matter. Let us love the names: what
is the name of this world? Space.
What is the name of the other world?
Time. What is the name of the light?
Color. What is the name of color? Change.
Image, as Lucretius contended,
is continuous, a crumbling into infinity
of everything, wave upon wave
of everything, gentle because too thinned
to threaten, attenuated everything…
The story used to be told, Pliny told
the story, lovely, of Dibutade
outlining her lover’s shadow on the wall
the night before he went to war. No one
tells stories anymore. No one casts shadows.
What did Pliny love? A good story. A story
is shadow cast by event, or by doubt,
or a story is the color of the absence
of the heroine, she who tacked the shadow
onto the wall, for instance.
My older brother, who became an engineer and helped men walk on the moon
took photography classes as a child I watched and listened his teacher made my
brother make a pinhole camera (I made one secretly myself, the salt-box and
tinfoil taped slyly into technology, a kind of making like love.) & by the time
they got to enlarging I saw the darkroom duties as an identical process
backwards—these men organized light to send along a lensed new path to
collide with silver halides all light informed…. Although the structure of the
AgBr and AgCl lattice is face-centered cubic, an enormous variety of crystal
shapes can be obtained, depending on the number and orientation of twin planes
and the conditions during growth…the crystals in commercial emulsions usually
contain mixed halide phases. Films suitable for a hand-held camera generally
contain silver bromoiodide, in which iodide ions are incorporated into the AgBr
lattice during crystal growth.
And here is a story told of things:
that the thing names itself like for instance
when that other dream comes into your room
and pesters you for your things, all things,
as if things were lesser entities, smaller
than their colors, thicker than their shadows.
So I talked with her, my friend, who knows
Japanese, and asked her how to say things
what it might be like to say things as if
the shadow of my thoughts were cast across
half a world, the source of shining,
the orient, the language of the rising
sun (but see
how the word refers to resemblance,
“oriental topaz”—look it up)
…so many words, too, are pronounced alike.
“Kinkai” means “a gold bar,” “the coastal waters,” Malinda Markham
and “it gives me great pleasure (to do that for you).”
“Suited to simple races, peasants, and savages”
Le Corbusier—not his real name—said of color
which he found on his journey to the east.
Me, I like them all, all colors, shading
into each other, you know, the spectrum,
a spectacle of itself, oh like a ghost. Specter,
inspector Ball provides the names:
verditers: artificial copper blues
Mars colors: artificial iron oxides
lake pigments: from fabric dyes
cinnabar—mercury sulfide (red)
cinnabar—blood of dragons and elephants—According to
Avicenna the dragon wraps his tail around the legs of the
elephant, and the elephant lets himself sink
upon the dragon, and the blood of the dragon
turns the ground red; and all the ground that
the blood touches becomes cinnabar…
Let’s have it so. A good story
(tolle lege, tolle lege spoken in a sing-song voice by
an unseen child from behind a wall, according to Augustine)
whose riper abundance deserves the world’s
gaudy spring, whose tender Pity might never
die, a famine of the grave, fairest bright memories,
(from light’s waste to sweet bright eyes
increase desire, self-substantial fuel—
gaudy the world, or else glutton: too cruel:
here are other names and things:
yellow ochre, ferric hydroxide
red ochre, Fe 2O 3, ferric oxide
heat yellow ochre and get red ochre
hydrate red ochre and get yellow
from the madder, a flower,
C 14H 6O 2(OH) 2, alizarin
C 14H 5O 2(OH) 3, purpurin.
They named the rainbow Iris.
A shadow of some former self,
down Ursulines Street thirty years later I
glimpse again—like a dream of stone—
the garden through the gate (if a hand
goes through, a gate, if not, a door)
as if in pity. As if pitied? Piety.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee…
a vision of cloistral shade and floral
lined walks, a place forbidden but there,
in sight, temptation to our better nature:
From fairest creatures we desire increase.
2. Things that Have Color
THING [[ME < OE, council, court, controversy,
akin to GER ding, ON thing (orig. sense, “public
assembly,” hence, “subject of discussion, matter,
(how odd these ways of making words
have surface, to cast a form of selves upon
the page like the pen eroding into ink,
like shadows of the thinking that survives)
thing”) < UE *tenk-, to stretch, period of time<
base *ten-, to stretch > THIN]]
If we scrutinize closely what is done in counting
aggregate or number of things, we are led to consi- Richard
der the ability of the mind to relate things to things,
to let a thing correspond to a thing, or to represent a
thing by a thing, an ability without which no think-
ing is possible.
Fast Color. Fast, as in the desert for forty days
and nights. How speedy the fast are, the girls
we admired in high school. Fastened to no one,
they were themselves and loved. Feast.
In a certain drawing by Tibaldi there is no wound
no place for the hand to insert itself. Hand made
belief, manufactured faith. Anyway, belief being
handy enough, a ready relief from the stress
of waiting for the tomb to open. After all it is
Easter today, is it not—the day I write.
This tree here, see outside my window, this
tree is full to bursting of its own efflorescence,
I see the embarrassed little knobs and
buds so full of their own sexuality oh
don’t look, give it a little privacy.
What color will it be, this bloom when
the skin cracks and the petal emerges,
and what emergencies we have known
in their shadow necessities, there.
So this apostle wanted a place
to put his hand, to touch to taste to see
the wound. Wounds R Us this season,
this is spring, it says here. You
can hear the breaking bark
see the little cracks forming hear
the invisible screams as the flesh parts,
tears, molecular disintegration. It bleeds
itself into season. Who doesn’t.
Touch the torn places.
“Mummy hand with amulets (human hand and
blue-glazed pottery, Late Period”—
—says something in sign,
the hand, I believe, the fingers. But in Egyptian.
Elsewhere another boy disregards the Saint—
a book in his sinister hand his severed tongue
in his right, severe witness to his own faith
his own wound—below the boy’s throat cut
in paint, Zurburan, a kind of story telling.
Everyone talks too much given half a chance.
Dumfounding, such stillness observed, a moment—
let us observe a moment of silence. What color is it?
3. Words Neither Cast Shadows Nor Have Color
All that was hidden is revealed,
and sometimes the thing was chocolate,
yet mostly you see the shattered shells
discarded, peeled off but reconstructable
of the boiled egg, the colors dizzying,
the sad detritus of the body of the res.
Shadow, shame and hand-tinting all have their
effects on how we say it: once the poets were first
and the painters to follow, to make only
what had been named: “Line drawing
was invented by the Egyptian Philocles or by the
Corinthian Cleanthes, but it was first practiced by
the Corinthian Aridices and the Sicyonian Telephanes—
these were at that stage not using any color, yet already
adding lines here and there to the interior of the
outlines; hence it became their custom to write
on the pictures the names of the persons represented.”
“Maple leaves are often used to convey the idea that you have been jilted. The
Japanese word for Maple leaves and love being iro—a subtle reference to
C.G. Holme, Glimpses of Old Japan
from Japanese Colour Prints: Birds
and Flowers (London, 1936)
“Iro” does mean color, though: “Kami”
is “paper,” and
“irogami” is “colored paper.” “Cha”
is “tea,” and “chairo”
is “brown” (tea-color). “-ppoi” is
kind of like our “ish,”
and “iro” with “ppoi” attached to it
(iroppoi) means “sexy,”
especially for women. “Colorish,” in a way, but only
Japanese people would hear it like that. If you put the same
“iro” character with the one for “woman”
or “man,” it
means a lover of whichever gender. But maple leaves” is
“momiji.” Whoever wrote that was just wrong.
“Since the beauty of a Japanese print is mainly that of lines, straight or
curving, broad or slender, I do not see why a carver’s knife is not at its best in
nude studies. The reason why, unlike the Greeks, we did not venture to find the
highest symbol of art in the human form, should be discovered in social ethics,
more than anything else, which taught us how to transform life’s falsehood into
a hyperbole of superficial arabesque beauty.
The Ukiyoye Primitives,
Yone Nocuchi (Privately Printed,
Nakano, Tokyo, 1933) p.107.
What have you named yourself?
name of the species is a place
Is it a secret? Is it dangerous?
Who is allowed to choose her own name?
What would your mother think?
to start. Not a place. The birds he named
were sometimes wrong, the names, but
his pictures were of something—of the young
of the Whooping Crane, he named
Sand Hill Crane. I traveled there once,
Nebraska, the Sand Hills. I was late and the birds
would speak in the twilight, a kind of murmuring
loud and it had to do with sleep.
I would sleep, too, after the drive
from Chicago. There is a city in Colorado
not my destination, named Ovid.
Is there a place you practice
pronouncing this name, secretly? Is it
safe? Is it the same name in the dark
as in the light? Does it fade during the day?
Can you pronounce it backward?
Can you say it in your mind so loudly
it hurts? Can you live without it?
Audubon’s Feliciana Sketchbook, 1821 to 23,
contains flying things mostly, not birds,
Praying Mantis, Spider, Fly, for instance,
this mantis was circus pink, the fly as if
dressed in blue-checked abdomen. The spavined
spider, full of venomous threat, gray and
yellow, enlarges on the page—I do not believe
he knew its name. I think he lied here,
made it up as if with his eyes closed. Spider.
We must love such a world.
Among us still, they are elegant all,
pink and gray and blue. Ovidian charm—
those he named, like Arachne, like Picus.
Every name is holy. Hollyhock
whose lower leaves waver lacy with rot or
chewed into delicacy. It takes a little time for
the charm of the hollyhock as an adolescent scatter
of self into the willing world, tipping over
still standing florally abundant,
thickly raucous and weedish.
Or can it ever matter again who
tends the garden now that longing has deflected
itself into itself, selfish, now that the little ones
bask in the light, the litter of insect bodies
gathers nightly underfoot, under purple waves?
I prefer the moth, the bulge
of body awkward against the grace of wing;
who flies under moonlight and gathers
grace into himself, eats the flowers, or perhaps
(the gray insignificant) eats the clothes
off our backs, under our feet the wool
of our carpets. The good moths eat anything,
in one of their forms. Fancy. We have a world
we love one another. We can fly
in the dark, enough dark, desiring.
I am thinking of History, which is a way
to name time. The name of this year,
for instance. To be allowed, from laudere,
to praise. To name is to praise is
a trick of words, all words are tricks.
A picture is worth thousands. Pingere,
ut pictura poesis. Time absolves
everyone everything. Give it
time. Solves all problems. Loses,
sits it out. He made other sketchbooks
of flowered weeds and wilderness,
of every horned and horrific creature
he might see. Beast. That is a name.
Yours? Truly. Beautiful.