The Beginning of Color

These brown discolorations on a faded black-
and-white photograph are not at all like a defect
In anything remembered but, rather, a kind of
“Crystallization” as Stendhal described it, in
One of his more eccentric books about love.
In truth, my childhood was cast down like a twig
Into an abandoned salt mine near Salzburg
From where it emerged, of this I’m certain,
As something much richer than my own life,
A jeweled branch of living history, now
Retrieved by my mother from the well at Twig
Bog Lane. I’ll never know who it was, and anyway
Why would I want to know who it was,
Who slid the black hard plastic button to On
One late summer afternoon in nineteen fifty-seven,
So that not only did some kind of shutter flick open
In my head, but the full force of color saturation
Hit my brain. The effect was high-speed Ektachrome
And life as it is now, that studio of constant poems — 
It’s just that as my mother hauled the metallic
Home Assistance milk gallon from the deep well
In Twig Bog Lane, the light of deprivation reflected
Back from her face and got lost in me, and I knew
How biography is the steadying of only one kind
Of lens, how memory offers different iterations;
How, somewhere, a paper was being coated with
Such chemicals that even deeper colors would form
Over time. During that summer, a world away,
The first International Color Salon was organized
In Hong Kong and, while restrictions on dollar
Imports meant that Ireland couldn’t reach a speed
Of 100 ASA, faster colors kept rushing in. There
Was no holding life back once it swarmed; biography
Was ready for color, our brains were marked
That year for realities more personal, realities brighter
Than a boxed-in lens. Huge Blackwater river rats
That knawed through the doors of our dry toilets in
Twig Bog Lane were as ignorant of color as me; and
Could not have known that their multi-layered bristles
Would soon be seen in more subtle shades of brown.

More Poems by Thomas McCarthy