(after Karlheinz Shockhausen’s Hymnen and David Hume’s “missing shade of blue”)
Cadmium red: Because this is the color I imagine my living human insides to be—warm, muscular, and toxic—it is a color I have not yet fully experienced. Once upon a blotted-out time, cadmium was a magnetized pole of in-out. It remains an involuntary projection, a screen behind closed eyes instantaneously evoked when I imagine my gruesome death. Once my insides are brought to light—like an ancient fresco buried under a church floor—the color immediately disintegrates.
Scarlet Lake: Swim in it all day, and get out glazed. You are sleeping or swimming, either way inside an ancient aquatic state. Fuck in the lake that dusk and pleasure shadows you but will not stay in your body as you walk home, side by side in a blue funk.
Alizarin crimson: Dark, transparent trance of reading for the first time. My mind hot and frothy under the spell. When I look up from my book, my grandmother is holding a flashcard. The word in red. “I don’t know,” I say, “alizarin crimson.” She keeps holding it up, looking at me: “YET.”
Vermilion: Intense red made from sulfur and mercury. Prone to turning black in sunlight. When one day I call my shirt “dusty rose,” my older brother insists it’s “vermillion.” I chalk it up to a version of male colorblindness until adults take his side. Even then, it took a paint swatch to convince me. My brother’s favorite color had always been blue, pitting his will against mine. How could it be that I failed to perceive the color I love best in the world? What is the corrective to see what I want? What is the treatment to see what’s there? What human affliction: the blindness toward affinity and love.
Brick: It is a reserve red; one we know exists, but are saving for an emergency. Like all reds, it doesn’t lighten it pinks. If pinking shears minimize the fray, this red is the cruel radiance of afraid.
Flame: I have benefited from being fired more than once. Though you might think it pathetic, I was fired from my first five jobs (in Mt. Gretna, PA; London, England; and State College, PA). Each time I took a new form and acquired special potencies. An afterburn glow. Firing enlarged and multiplied my senses, then contracted them powerfully. I don’t whine and cry when I don’t get what I want, I know how to steal.
Carmine: As a child: attempts to make all food a shiny vibrant attractor by covering it with ketchup. As a teenager: rising out of tasks to walk toward the animal, thus transmuting the body into full floridity: estrus, fresh meat, and red wine puked out of a moving window.
Rose madder: Transparent. The startling yolk of an egg I crack into a morning bowl. A train going by prolongs the moment: a yolk of red leather, a red leather yoke. Put a small dot of red yolk on your forehead as menstruating women once did in China.
Quinacridone red: Mix with Payne's grey for a dull purple. Also known as permanent rose, red rose, permanent magenta. I was bleeding the first time I slept with the nonhusband. After sex, I assumed sleep postures, packed tightly between two large dogs on his twin bed, and waited for light. I wasn’t sure who was snoring in the dark, or where my clothes had landed. Having no tampons with me, I thought to leave a note on my way out. I found my coat on the kitchen floor and put it on, hoping to hide the blood. This was the coat I had spent all my prize money for: knee-length, high collared black shearling. I pocketed my hands, but they shot right through to my thighs. I headed for the door, wanting to get outside before I look. His dogs had eaten out both pockets.
Venetian red: Reminds us that anything may turn red. Certain foxes, pandas, squirrels, and jellyfish; male cardinals; cooked lobsters; the neck of the largest wallaby; the nose of a mandrake; a mandrill’s ass; the second horse of the Apocalypse.
Burnt Sienna: Dear Ms. Hume: The HIV/AIDS Notification Service is a voluntary organization based at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which works with people who have recently tested positive for the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV). One of our purposes is to provide confidential health care information. The other is to notify those who have been sexually active with someone who has recently tested positive for HIV.
Your name was submitted to our organization, for possible contraction of HIV. Someone you have ha sexual contact with, has tested positive for the Human Immune Deficiency Virus, and has requested our services as a means of anonymously informing all past and present sexual partners of their possible contraction.
This is a notification of complete anonymity. Therefore, we are unable to provide you with the name of the person who has contracted HIV and submitted your name to us. We recommend that you be tested as soon as possible, as early detection is one of the best defenses. Because of the serious nature of this life threatening illness, we want to make sure all relevant parties, including your husband are informed.
We are truly sorry for what you and your family are now facing, but take hope in the fact that people are now living longer, healthier, normal lives, in spite of being HIV positive.
The Volunteers of the HIV/AIDS Notification Service
Indian red: The words drop so fast I can't pick them up. Tips of matches with their quick gigantic life.
Christine Hume is the author of three books of poetry—most recently Shot (Counterpath, 2009). She is coordinator of the interdisciplinary Creative Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University. Every Sunday at 8 p.m. (EST), she hosts Poetry Radio, which features contemporary and historic sound art, performance art, sound poetry, collaborations between writers and musicians, student work, audio narratives, and sound poetry. Today listen in for a special Valentine Day's show: http://www.emich.edu/studentorgs/wqbr/ or when you are more in the mood, listen to the podcast at iTunes