Monday, April 30, 2012

#31: "A History of Blue" by Sarah Brown Weitzman

~This poem previously appeared in The North American Review (2003)


A HISTORY OF BLUE
                 “Everywhere I inquired I was told to look for blue”
                                            -Carl Phillips

Absolute and unambiguous as black
that first blue God might have scraped

from a rainbow in the prism of his mind 
deep and pure as midnight before

later incestuous mixing and mezzotints,
a cobalt so copious it ran like smalt

into the oceans, the Nile and the Danube. 
Quickly diluted, it was sucked up

into the glaciers to burst out again
like azurine in the Aegean, then to glow

neon in a grotto near Capri, visible still 
in scallop shells, oysters, fish and crabs

while that original cyan thinned out
across the sky to a faint wraith

of itself we see on the lips of the dead.
Yet the moon took up the color

for special occasions and double visits
as did peacocks and robin’s eggs, herons

and jays, the blue fox, cornflowers, irises,
the dark navy of the chow’s tongue.

No blue was found in the earliest cave paintings
but Babylonian friezes used turquoise bricks.

Then came the lapis lazuli and sapphire goblets
of the pharaohs who worshiped equal gods

of red fire and yellow sun, later Virgin Mary blue  
translucent in sunlight in the stained glass

in thirteenth-century churches.  From the woad
herb and mollusks netted in the Mediterranean 

huge vats of royal blue dye gave rise to forbidden
or permitted clothing.  Then Murano glass,

cheese mold, Bluebeard, architect’s prints,
Prussian blue coats, the slate blue of mountains

in the distance, distance itself, Wedgwood
bice, Persian blue, huckleberries, Gainsborough’s

boy’s beryl suit, French blue faience,  bruises,
Worth’s perfume Je Reviens, Canadian spruce, 

the metallic teal Georgian silver casts,
the tint of blue in fresh snow, the fairy

in Pinocchio, a period of Picasso’s, fountain
pen ink, first-place ribbons, husky’s eyes,

Concord grapes, shrimp’s veins, overalls,
lagoons and lakes, a hint in skim milk,

shadows in impressionists' paintings,
wash bluing, Kentucky grass, diamonds,
  
Windex, in Mondrian’s limited palette, rare
steaks, the shine on steel, tattoos, clouds

before a storm, this planet seen from space,
a Raggedy Andy doll in its frayed and faded

blue shirt and pants, the only possession 
that came with me from the orphanage

to where then he was thought too shabby
and boyish for a little girl.  While I slept,

they replaced him with fancy pink dolls
in frilly white lace and a soft black lamb

but it’s that Raggedy Andy blue
I’ve been trying to find all my life.



*****

THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM

After a series of ekphrastic poems written in the last part of the previous century, I began a series of poems about individual colors.  The primaries intrigued me at first so I started with blue, the rarest. Now I think that I have written a poem on every possible hue, even two poems about puce!  “The History of Blue” was my second blue poem and shows the influence of Whitman’s list /catalogue poems.  As if trying to locate one metaphor for everything, I attempted to write the complete encyclopedic blue poem --  blue in all its ramifications:  artistic, linguistic, religious, literary, botanical, scientific, culinary, cinematic, climatological, aesthetic, emotional.  Of course, I did not and could not succeed. – Sarah Brown Weitzman

*****

ABOUT SARAH BROWN WEITZMAN

Sarah Brown Weitzman has had well over 200 poems published in numerous journals including Abraxas, Poet & Critic, American Writing, Potomac Review, America.  Her second chapbook, The Forbidden (2003, Pudding House) was followed by Never Far from Flesh, a full-length volume of poems (Pure Heart/Main Street Rag, 2005).  Her most recent work is a children’s novel, Herman and the Ice Witch (Pure Heart/Main Street Rag, 2011). Sarah received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, was a finalist in the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award. A former New York academic, she is retired and lives in Florida.

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