a colour study

Colour Study: Purple

Purple:  The lilacs my boys have in their fists.  They are thrashing out the smell like priests do with those balls of incense.  (I learn that those balls are called thuribles and that inside them incense is burned over coals.  So really, they are swinging containers of death.)  I try to suggest the boys be gentler with the lilacs.   “Lets carry them home and put them in water, wouldn’t they be nice in a vase on the table?”  But they can’t seem to help themselves and continue their repetitive rite.  The lilacs break down mid air and there are petals, so tiny you hesitate to call them petals, in their hair.  The lilac season is short here - one perfumed week in May – making their assault on the flowers seem all the more violent.

Purple:  Their bodies when they came from me.  When you peel a boiled egg right you get your fingers under that clinging film beneath the shell and the egg comes out slippery and whole.  When I peel eggs I think of childbirth.  The breaking; the drawn-out tedium; the slippery, sometimes-so-perfect-it-forces-you-to-contemplate-roundness result.  I remember the crying animals that came from between my legs and were shipwrecked on my chest as purple.  I wonder if this memory is wrong; were they really red?  Did my mind mix it up?  Maybe memory is a prism that splits colours.  But there it is in my head, twice: small purple people, gasping and crying and perfect with thrumming purple ropes coming from their bellies.

My friend told me that because she couldn’t use her hands when her baby was born, they stuffed her daughter, a small purple animal, down her shirt.  Also purple: the sachet of lavender her sister gave her to sniff during labour.

Purple: The butterfly we saw emerging from its chrysalis at the zoo.  The paper sack hung there and then there were legs and then hard work and then a sort of sad struggling body stumbled part way out.  Emerged feels too smooth a word.  It didn’t emerge so much as break free. I have read that inside the chrysalis there is just goop: the caterpillar breaks down before the butterfly begins to grow.  Inside a chrysalis is decay like the decay in my compost bin.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it were otherwise?  If transformation was a matter of hiding away and taking your time and growing wings?  I would prefer to imagine transformation in this way.  But transformation in this case comes out of commitment and compromise.  And Loss.  Not complete death, but complete loss.  I feel deceived on this front.  The stories and songs from my childhood had me believing that life came from life.   That the kind of death that gave way to life was a sort of “faux-death”: inside winter hid spring.  But that isn’t true.  Spring is nowhere in winter.

The butterfly at the zoo was the Emperor butterfly.  But I’ve never see a butterfly look less regal. 

Purple:  Pickled cabbage on tacos.  Lent.  The name of Steve Jobs’ secret club that developed the iPhone.  Some Mediterranean jellyfish.  Bruises.  Figs.  Taro root.  Flintstones vitamins.

Purple:  A blanket on the bed of a boy.  In the morning when I am in the bathroom I can see through the door into the boy’s room.  Because of this compromised view and because of our long night apart I have a sense of them as strange mysteries.  Like whales beneath the water: slow swelling movements that suggest grandness underneath.  The boys do not yet move like they will in the day.  Minus their spritely energy their bodies look altogether different and heavy - I do not recognize the leg heaved from under the covers.  A sleeping body covered in blanket stretches and then curls.  There is the slow rise of a knee or elbow then a pause.  Movement.  Sleep.  Movement. This is different than the chrysalis.  Here is latent life.  Here is hidden spring. The boys emerge.  Like whales surfacing: they take your breath away.  Their limbs have grown overnight.  It takes effort to connect these bodies with the marooned newborns from years ago; there has been loss.  But life has come, and keeps coming, from life.