The day is grey, the sky a veil
of tarnished silver flung upward from the east,
an immensity of space and light hovering
beneath its feathered edges. The deep and distant haze
thickens into the substance of cloud, holding and withholding
light—the palest shade of lavender reflected in polished pewter.
At the corner of Leavenworth and Denison, I dawdle
before a house with ochre walls, absorbing light
between a roof of sugared cinnamon and a frame
of winter-burned grass teasing me with a memory of green.
I ponder a neighbor’s house, a shade of tan, translated,
this morning, into something new entirely, not yellowed
or greyed or tinged with green, so that what I see
is not color—flat, opaque, unchanging—but light itself,
humming, like the velvet buzz of bees.
My father never had such moments.
Oscar Rokohl saved him from teacherly censure
in a South Texas schoolhouse sixty years ago.
Daddy tapped Oscar on the shoulder and,
one by one, Oscar selected the crayons
for grass or cows or sky, though the final landscape
looked a lot like shades of grey to Daddy’s eyes.
Since 1948, my mother has matched his suits
and ties, provided useful admonitions about stoplights.
Daddy doesn’t seem to mind.
Suddenly this shimmering morning
I understand: tomorrow I will not be able to see the colors
that whir at me today. Tomorrow the light will be gone
and I’ll be back in Kansas, colorblind.
Layers, Plain View Press, 1994
A Note About the Poem:
I lived in Manhattan, Kansas, from the summer of 1986 to the summer of 1987. I took the year off from teaching, walked my older son to first grade, and took care of a household for four. This poem grew out of a morning walk to school with Karl. Much has changed in the intervening years. My mother is no longer with us; neither is Oscar Rokohl. My father died March 7, 2015—five months past his ninetieth birthday. When I read this poem, they are with me again—young and vibrant as I remember them from the stories they told when I too was young.