Monday, October 3, 2011



I am sitting in our small, worn Louisiana kitchen. I am younger than three. The smell of butter melting on noodles subtly but firmly dominates the apartment. Our wood floors glisten like honey in the slanting light of the setting sun. Even though our apartment is surrounded by buildings, some drops of summer light escape to come to dinner with us. It sounds yellow: like contentment, peace, security. The sound of boiling water, of sizzling onions and the blip of bubbles through tomato sauce. Mom hums scattered segments of various Glenn Miller songs and chats with me as I play with my palomino ponies just outside of the yellowed linoleum. A lovely yellow melody. When I ask, she tells me we’re having angel hair pasta. I imagine angels as little blond girls with long white dresses who sing playful yellow songs on clouds and eat cinnamon toast for every meal. Their hair is golden and shiny and warm. I can almost see their halos in the curling steam. I wonder vaguely why angels’ hair is so much tastier than mine and who first thought to eat an angel’s hair? A yellow melody – my first memory.


Underwater is the purest sound of green. Dense, close, heavy with potential. Nothing is completely devoid of green. The second purest sound of green is crickets. Crickets or cicadas with the rustling of a thousand corn fields. I walk the hills of Wisconsin countryside searching for the sound of green. But there is no one source. It creeps like ivy into all life-sounds. I find that smearing grass on one's knees or cleaning horses' stalls can intensify the sound of green. Maybe being so close to dying chloroplasts gives you insight to the voice of green in other places. Sap is a nice accent. It plays harmony to green. Before Wisconsin, in Oregon, the smell of sap and mold is in everything. Listening to the pines' clicker of needle and the constant movement in the undergrowth – like I can hear the blackberry bushes growing – the smell of sap on mold and the voice of green become inextricable.


My first bike is blue. A bold, confident, patriotic blue. When I learn to ride on two wheels, I hear wind. I hate that sound when it was in the car causing my hair to do nothing but fly straight into my eyes. But here, on this bold blue bike under the forget-me-not blue of the sky and the song of blue in my ears, I love this! I spend most of the next several rides trying to tune into to the song of blue again. Blue is always moving though. Too much exposure rubs her azure gleam away. Now, I find her on mountain sides, the tops of a roller-coaster, the middle of Chicago or with the intoxicating smells of sea-salt and seaweed on the coast, the song of blue wraps around my ears and eyes and tingles my skin with the expanse of possibilities that wait within the endlessness of sky and sea. I catch a glimpse of an ethereal cerulean blur. Always changing, always the same. Periwinkle twinkles at me for less than a second before the song of blue and the breath of freedom escape me again.


The lighter notes of purple are soft, whispered footsteps while passing under lilac trees – slowing down so as to savor the scent. It's in the sound of crunchy grapes and the crack-fizz of a newly-opened soda can. It’s charming in rocks. Adding a low, throbbing pulse to the otherwise lifeless grey. Purple can also be passionate. Raindrops’ patter preludes the rolling rhythm of purple in the thunder. The commanding sounds prompt us to drop everything and run to the biggest window. We turn off the lights and bundle together in a nest of quilts, ready to watch purple conduct a stormy orchestra. It rumbles in like a huge purr through the blackberry-flavored sky or suddenly clatters like fifteen rakes all falling simultaneously. Occasionally there's just one explosive burst of purple spattering the sky with oblong echoes of breaking clouds. Sometimes our ribs vibrate so violently in response, we jump or scream or giggle to release the pressure. Intensified patters of water on glass and thuds of falling pinecones on our tin roof are the undulating arpeggios that give depth to the power of the base. We ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ appreciatively at the storm’s artful plunges into deeper tones of wine and amethyst. Before dispersing into light puce, we beg for an encore. If it’s been an especially empowering performance, purple sends us one last eye-splitting crack before slipping humbly out of view behind the curtain of trees.


Bursting fireworks! Acceleration! Knees against asphalt! The high-pitched squeal while jumping from the top stair into a pile of pillows amassed on the landing! Red is the reverberating echo that bounces inside of the fuchsia kickball when it slams against the ground in a four-square game. The sharp, quiet gasp when the beautiful person in the red convertible looks my way but I can't tell if they're looking at me, but if they are, I don't want to look away. The ringing in my ears as I blush. Red sounds. They live on the border between fear and security, tingling with anticipation but empty of substance. When my brother was born, my mother found out that we were actually getting two brothers, not just one. We answer Dad's call from the hospital on a Mickey Mouse phone with excited giggles and questions. I scream when he tells us we have twin brothers. I can't stop screaming. When they come home they are both lobster red, but soon lighten to a healthy rose color. Their cries ring with crimson frustration. Intense for a time until subsiding with exhausted, intermittent sobs. Their laugh is equally intense and short-lived. They grow up into teenagers who like the thrills of racing down snowy mountains and singing in front of hundreds of people. Red is still ringing in their ears.


The gravitational pull of pink is irresistibly fun. Pink dances about in tickle fights and the sound of mattress springs straining under the bouncing weight of five children at once. It is snap of the sweet, rubbery candy that we work all Saturday to afford from the convenience store. It is the musical playfulness of our favorite theme songs on TV, the tinkling beauty of flutes, the graceful forms of ballerinas, and the magical rip of birthday wrapping paper. It was the snap of bubblegum between our teeth. I told my third-grade class that my favorite color was pink and they laughed me to scorn. The fashionable colors were blue and green and sometimes orange – definitely not pink. Later in life, I would have pink coats and shoes and scarves and lipstick and wonder if anyone in that class learned to enjoy the lively company of pink.


Orange is all about energy, intensity, strength. Between the explosive uncertainty of red and the soothing warmth of yellow, orange is vibrant and awake. The pleasant thrum of happy people talking and laughing together, the buzz of heat in your head. Orange smells seem more common than orange sounds, though. Probably because of their head start in associating themselves with citrus. My favorite orange smell is Krapfen. We are in Vienna for a month. We live in an apartment above a baekerei. Every morning we go downstairs and smell what's fresh. If it's a lucky day, they're making Krapfen. Powdered sugar sprinkled on squishy balls of fried dough concealing a juicy, tart, apricot center, they are a perfect beginning to a lively



Brown might be the friendliest color. Brown will sing to anyone, any day, any time. It is passive and old, sometimes boring, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes sad, always present. Footsteps on a rain-warped deck, thudding stairs, squelching mud, chopping potatoes, a purring knife as it slices through bread, the chatter of dead leaves. Brown was the sound that accompanied me in third grade when recess became uncomfortably social and I sought refuge with a football and an old tree. Creaking trees, crunching gravel, fizzing flies, the snap of twigs, the soft, sandy rustle of dirt. I listened to brown. If I felt especially impatient, I would throw the football at the tree and listen to the heavy thump of leather on bark until I tired or a harsh bell’s cry called us inside. Somehow, I think brown understood me much better than I ever understood brown.


Pure white is very serene. It’s hard to hear because once you realize you hear it, you’re too conscious to continue listening. I find it only in the unique moments where I straddle the crevice between reality and untouched void. Where white transcends color and sound and becomes simply light – the combination of colors, the absence of sounds. Otherwise, less-pure sounds of white are usually more ordinary. Flipping paper. Crunching snow. Crashing waterfalls. The squeak of new basketball shoes in a gym. A crisp, cleansing sound. White will always be part of my Grandma's house. She made it a temple of white cushions, curtains and carpets and served us raw, pale brown sugar with cream to put in our white mush for breakfast. She wore white and black always. White was the sound of quiet, but earnest activity. For some reason, she wouldn't let her hair go white. It wasn't until she couldn't remember her own husband that its natural translucence peeked through the roots.


Black is often doomed to dreary sounds of death or sadness, but it’s even better at the sounds of mystery and speed. We play wolves to the music of black. We dress in nightgowns and pajamas, turn off all the lights, twist up the volume on our parents’ stereo and run. High intensity violins in Yanni's orchestra playing a growing crescendo as the brass, drums and other violins come in. The patter of feet and gulps of breath as we race around the house reveling in the dim light that casts quick, morphing shadows behind us. Black is exhilarating speed and the dizzying spirals of overlapping music. Black bubbles through every chord of the triumphant trumpets, it sings through every vein of the violins. It is majesty in music so great that your eyes close just to see the black more clearly.


“n. a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color” (Websters Dictionary).

[Apologies for the High-School-era art. But it felt boring without a little color. :)]


K said...

No apologies necessary. I am working my way through this. One does not eat an entire box of chocolates at one time. I stopped today just before Purple, a color that has not invaded your style - though you are expressive, passionate and call me to unusual juxtaposition of senses.

K said...

Ah. Finished. I enjoyed myself very much. But you missed something about black. Black jelly-beans. October. Halloween - those peanut butter toffees that come in black and orange waxed papers. I am just pulling these out of my head right now - so maybe I am tasting rather than hearing the colors in my own head. Interesting. And for brown, I would add the creak of saddle leather. And the smell of nutty syrup found under a horse's heavy mane.

You did a great job with the concept. And taught me a lot about you are. It was a valuable piece.

Murphy said...

Wow, I really liked this entry. I agree with your teacher's comments about your imagery. My mind was taken along with you to those places and parts of your life. I like it. I feel orange right now. :)