4.09 / September 2009


She said my color is red,
like bursting cherries and summertime,
like her mother poised on a lawn chair
at noon, hair newly dyed and curled,
and the color of the Mustang
shaking off dust and tree branches
while a man traces his hand up
the porch railway. It’s the color
of lipstick smears on wrists and teeth,
the way the man’s eyes catch
and her mother jumps and she spends
another hour cleaning cherry pie
off the floor. The color of love, even,
smeared with paint all over
the living room walls because the man
said that red calms him.
Her mother smiles but her eyes dart,
and every night the house goes silent
at exactly nine o’clock.

But it’s not the color of blood, she says,
not stains on their bedroom sheets,
marks on her mother’s hips
that sway when she stands too long. Not the color
brimming her eyes like brandy, or the way
the man hugs her a little too tightly
while the living room paint seems to peel
on its own. Her mother’s hands
hover over her hair, and her eyes still
yo-yo and swing. The man smiles,
and that isn’t red either. It’s not color blooming
behind her mother’s skin,
or the bottoms of her feet from the gravel
that fills their driveway, and it’s not
the way her lips are always a shade too dark
when she comes down for breakfast.

No, she said, my color is red,
like bursting cherries and summertime,
her skin peeling from too much sun
and her mother’s lipstick in rows
on the vanity. She smiles politely,
one foot arched and retreating
while walls like bones rattle upstairs,
and she eases the door shut,
insisting that her mother’s cherry pie
is best straight out of the oven.