The river near my flat must have been an impressive sight to men and women of an earlier time, in wilder, greener times. On a summer evening such as this, a painter of any skill could identify, by mouth or brush, the colors in seemingly endless variation. A student of botany would corral all that green under a single word that speaks to both aesthetics and function; chlorophyll. But as my eyes scan the river bank, back across the snow-capped clover that leads to it, and then up to myriad bushes and trees, it is clear that one word (no matter how apt) is not large enough to contain all the emerald shades before me. And an approaching summer storm can render every patch of shining, bright green into something dark and lush. Color and light work together. They are pals. Comrades.
Men and women walk the Earth with skin as white as newly-struck alabaster or onyx (the artist is ever present!), or brown like ancient amber. So much variation. Some people are described as white, while others are given the label black. But in truth, have you ever seen two people with skin that is exactly the same hue? We generalize, and all generalizations are inaccurate by definition, but closer inspection reveals the truth of it. That we are all unique, even on the surface. Every body is a world unto itself, circling the sun along its own path. Taking it places that can be seen reflected in our pigmentation, our flaws, our eyes. The pigmentation of our skin tells a story far more interesting than one of evolutionary adaptation. It also tells our co-workers if we've been on vacation in Jamaica, or sick and in bed in our flat. Our skin tells ancient tales as well as reports recent developments. A blister can be a dispatch from the Front. A new red and white pimple a monument to adolescent hormones that will surely lead to frustration and angst.
Your personality also has a say in what color you'll display to the world. An attractive young lady of pleasing proportions may be more inclined to cover a bit less on a white hot summer day. A finger of sunshine, a beam fired from a distant star, moving across the small of her back as she lies in her yard or on a beach. Even then the color of her body will not be uniform. Sun worship requires impossibly difficult prostration, kneeling, lying and stretching. With the aid of clothes and a summer evening growing dim and dark, the illusion may just work. But a lover or trusted friend will know the truth, which is ironic since they are the ones she is trying so desperately to fool. A partner knows that between her bronzed legs and back sits two alabaster cheeks. A white bum that shines with white light and reminds both the Sun Goddess and her devoted follower that all perfection is a lie. It has to be. The belly and breast and face may speak of the careful application of sun, of attraction, of "vacation sex." But that ivory bum tells a different story. It brings to mind that Coppertone ad, the one with the dog. I think of a woman in her flat, around about February, telling her friends that she needs to get a bit of color.
The white bum reveals all.
And in an attempt to attain a uniform color, a "bronzing" chemical, or perhaps tanning salon, will be employed. But it never looks exactly the same. That bum will never be as tanned and weathered as one's face.
Only a nudist, willing to reveal cheeks as white as a February snowdrift to strangers, earns the right to prance about with a perfectly uniform brown body. But even then, it's never totally even. None of us are one color. Just like the water lily on Mystic river that is bright green at the base and dark green on top and a million shades in between. We are all a kaleidoscope, within and without.
I'm thinking of my own body now. The soles of my feet are dirty, and dead skin at the heel has been picked away (a nasty habit). Toenails are pink, but white where they grown too long. Weight loss has given me a shape that pleases me a bit more than when I was obese, but I'm still as white as snow over most of my body! Between my legs, my thighs are a bit darker (perhaps from walking and rubbing) than my hips, which are the color of driven snow. As a man, I must accept a forest of what can only be referred to as, "ass hair." Kind women have said that I'm a teddy bear, and refer to my hairy bum and back and chest as "fur." But it's not fur! It's black hair that emerges from skin that is tanned (arms, neck and face) to white (just about the rest of me).
My blood is red, tears and sweat are cloudy-clear, and scars are a darker hue than the skin once cleaved. Some of my hairs, wherever you may find them, are turning gray. This pleases me. My eyes are gray-green. Linda once said that they look like the sea. Not the blue off a Florida beach, but like the North Atlantic. Deep and rich with algae. I like this, as well.
Perhaps those green eyes resemble the green of the trees that line the Mystic River. And the white flower of the lily pads might resemble my white hips and ass. I keep those parts hidden, except from women who have promised to love me, and accept all of me, even the white parts that need more than a little sun.
The flora of the Mystic River let it all hang out, with no concern or shame like the silly apes we be. White flowers, rich green shoots and leaves, brown and gray bark...it's all there. No shame in cause and effect that leads to this color or that.
And color reveals so much! The attractive woman with almost (but never total) uniformity of color indicates that the owner of the body is very aware how pretty it is. The obese man with a body the color of a salt flat, except for the face and hands, reveals a shyness or even shame that is defining in more ways than one. Even the old men at the "L" Street bathhouse in South Boston tell the world so much with their ruddy complexions. They simply don't like to use sun block, do they?
So much color, along the river and along the lines of our bodies. My friend Linda is getting color in her face now, as she loves taking care of horses, and that gets her outside. My brother, Kent, is turning red, then tanned. He plays a lot of tennis. My left arm is a bit more tanned than my right, as it gets that way while I run errands with the car. Down all those sunny streets.
A unifying theory of color is needed. Music can reduce me to tears in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. But so can the halo of white light around the moon just before a winter storm rolls in. Or the colors of Halloween; from the leaves to the orange of pumpkins to the red of apples still on the tree or in a barrel of cold water, ready for bobbing. Yes, I've been known to be so taken by these images that I have to fight back tears to prevent embarrassment.
The fall has so many stories, and not all are colored by Ray Bradbury and full of pumpkins and apples. Some years, self-loathing and depression cripple my romantic inclination to pass out candy and present decorations. Some years, the back stoop light is off and the blinds are drawn. Darkness. Romantically, I could say that it speaks to my yearning for the darkness of impending, eternal death, or something. But in reality it indicates my desire to simply be left alone. It's a sad darkness, not an intriguing one that fills a wild ravine and compels children to invent scary stories. It's a dark bulb, and one not blown but dark by choice. The flip of a switch.
Eyes possess the power of the Mystic River. The orange of a carved pumpkin is the color of happiness and mystery during childhood (children still enjoy and fear the dark corners of the world, god bless them, and the emblem of this is a Jack-O-Lantern). Of light crippled to let the mind flourish in darkness. Like crystals or mold.
And my mind turns back to all those shades of green. From my eyes, to my newly planted pepper and tomato plants, to the maples and oaks and elm and evergreen along the river. And those wonderful lily pads that will, in time, produce a shock of white above the dark water in just a few weeks. Say what you will about form, but I treasure all the complexions of Linda, Kent, Clare, Annie, my father, Melanie...they all have their own unique forms. And their own unique palettes to produce them. Your colors tell a story, and it may not be the one you are trying to tell. Your colors say a lot about you. They reveal so much. Of what you've done and what you hope to do or be. And every passing storm makes you a bit darker, like the heart of a black oak tree, or the slowly moving, algae rich water of an ox bow.