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Learning Color
Emily Rapp

The sun in Namibia is an extrovert,
spreads its bright chatter everywhere,
bleaches earth and sky the same hot-white,
wheat-white and then, at night, urgent blackness
touches blackness in horizonless darkness.
No streetlights here. We are shades of dimness
singing vespers in the moonlight. I try
to see your color among my colleagues,
hue of leather, best burgundy overlaid.
Where were you from?
In Cote d’Ivoire, needles spill out in the streets;
In Madagascar, babies’ heads swell yellow and drown.
I am not strong enough for your story.
You were from heaven, to me from God,
you were Shawn from Staten Island with an Irish
name, born on a porch and found by your mama
who raised you with Jesus who saved your life.
And then you saved mine from the misery
of high school keggers and boys who spit at
me when they tried to speak. Saved from the right
foot hating what the left foot was doing.
Saved. You were soft, I was softer, our bodies
together triumphant. Always the liturgy
of your voice: the Lord says. We
followed. A boy bowing down
is hard to resist; by the time I learned
this, my name was already moving awkwardly
in your mouth. At night, in the insect-buzz,
squirming-sky, I cannot lock your smell out
of my skin. Again your hands anchor me. You say,
Girl, there’s nothing in this world the matter with you.
Oh, it is just what I’d secretly hoped, but
I crossed this dark river of humming hippo breath,
bombs, mines, and weeds to ask you again,
calling Chicago on the only payphone
at the border, to beg you, yes.
Pride disappearing
with each cool drop
of the coins into the slot.


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