Everybody has a story
about how they didn’t fit
until they do –
and they want to tell it.
Here is how it begins;
how you make monsters out of children
by telling them stories
about this other world, a world where
they sink in clouds and color the earth
where forests of blue lakes
give birth to strange animals
are only a bleak version of themselves
are never only stories.
This is how children are made;
without intention or precision
where orange doors and glass portals
lead to another dimension,
Look at them command in this other world;
they don’t hesitate, or quarrel, and they are not afraid –
they climb trees, and pick up leaves, and speak a language
made of wild berries and honey nut combs –
they grow tall, and feed off the earth and
drink its glazed colors, and swim through all shades of green –
sodden green, lime green, bruised green, emerald eyes, muddy-greens
of bedwaters, the blue-green of newborns laughing.
This is how
monsters are made –
until they don’t.
White is a color,
black is art. Nod to those before you.
Brown is a sense of being, and dark only
hovers beneath the shadows of necks – those
who fear it most. Here is to fear.
Red are the tip of shoes of the woman
who waited in the bathroom patiently when I was
only three – to steal my mother’s ruby earrings. White is
the unsafe silence of bathroom walls, and their
morbidly cubic nature. White is water running under
my feet, the innocent screams of school children at
Brown is the anomalous texture of curtains from my
childhood home. Brown is also the parched wood
of a small coffee-grinder my mother used. Brown as in
the intimate angles of sharply cut ambasha my grandmother
made, flour and water, lemon skin and cinnamon shreds, the
dark heads of raisins, while on a cargo plane back to Ethiopia,
the tired eyes of war-victims and their slow recovery. Brown
is also the color of my skin, but I didn’t know it then.
Blue are the waters embedded in my grandmother’s eyes. Blue is
the whisper of the Nile, Abbay. Blue is the color of the brave. Blue
are the walls of empty neighbors houses and the insides of their
living room. Blue is skimmed milk tearing the sky.
White sometimes comes back at odd hours. White are strangers eyes
drenched in sadness. White is the uniform of doctors, the smell of
alcohol and something mad. White is absence. Purple comes back
as shoes, American shoes. Sky and blood under a quiet shadow. The
shadow of a young tree planted in memory of a murdered teacher in
high school. And the milky paste of over-ripe figs spurting prematurely,
spiking insides. Purple is warmth in mid-July, when rain hails on corrugated
tin roofs and the leaning green arms of lonely corn plants.
Yellow is crying; it’s a bell, a cathedral in Asmara? A school? Or the
shriek of a mass funeral. Yellow is dead. But listen to black. Listen to
black notes, black heart, listen. Black is art. Not of the artist, the art of
being. The painful art of memory. Here’s to remembering.
Mahtem Shiferraw is a poet, visual artist and cultural activist. She grew up in Eritrea & Ethiopia. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Her work has been published in The 2River View, Blast Furnace, Blood Lotus, Bohemian Pupil Press, Cactus Heart, The Missing Slate, Mad Hatters Literary Journal, Mandala Journal and is forthcoming from The Bitter Oleander Press and Diverse Voices Quarterly. Her short story "The River" received Honorable Mention from Glimmer Train Press. You can find her here: http://mahtemshiferraw.com/