Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Gray day on the mountain
Friends here at Sewanee, TN chide me for giving Sewanee the “aka” of “Grayburg,” but today when I woke up, I thought about this neutral color of gray that seems to pervade the atmosphere on The Mountain. This morning, a gentle rain and overhanging clouds make the name Grayburg seem fitting for these environmental changes, but on far more dry days the iron-colored sky and encroaching mists overpower the village, and Grayburg seems to be a likely name for the place. Natives of the community bristle when I use this name, especially when I say, “it’s an ugly day outside today,” and they hasten to describe the “beautiful mystical look” of the environment, using adjectives like “pearl,” “charcoal,” “silver,” and “gunmetal” to define just plain old gray. It’s a color that isn't white or black, but is a sort of pessimistic hue which forms the background for movies about the British moors, medieval castles, murders in the mists, and other murky subjects.

Green forest in our backyard
Of course, my native Louisiana is often no more uplifting in color, as I’ve always described the sky there as a “threatening-to-rain sky,” and many days in the Fall and winter, fog shrouds the cane fields, highways, and swamps. However, the architecture in Cajun country is not Gothic, and here at Sewanee, we’re surrounded by Gothic buildings on the campus and gray stone residences scattered throughout the town. The color is dignified and authoritative, but constant exposure to it sometimes elicits “gray moods.” Even the fence that surrounds our cottage, which began its life as a natural tan color has begun to silver and now blends in with the rest of Grayburg.

I read that if you want to feel creative and joyful about life, stare at a green object or landscape for two seconds and you’ll lighten up. One of my favorite rites for overcoming melancholia is to walk outdoors and look at the woods where green is the most prevalent color in the natural world, a refreshing color that alleviates anxiety and restores energy.

When I lived in the province of Khuzestan in southern Iran for two years, I appreciated the blue-green colors of gates, mosques, and grillwork on houses and learned that shades of green and blue are regarded as sacred in Iran because they signify paradise. I lived on desert terrain, and with the help of a Portuguese friend, painted a wall in our dining room the color of the ocean to boost the spirits of my family who drooped in the tan landscape.

On a particularly gray day recently, I penned the following poem entitled “The Color Green,” which may become the title poem in a new book of poetry I’m writing:

the experts say,
is requisite for creativity,
stare at a verdant object
or landscape for two seconds
and words reach their level of spirit;

trees leafing out on the Cumberland hills,
lichen climbing a stone wall,
the color of hospital wards,
an emerald peace,
mint that my father planted
in the yard of my memory,
grass drinking in dew,
and onions finding their Spring life…

all for the poem that announces life
saying the words for strumpet seasons,
for even the sky washing green.

This, touts the experts
is the color of the opera of language,
the dense forests of stories
you can now listen to in a color…
for everything there is to say.
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