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MEN SAY BROWN

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On the radio this morning: The average woman knows
275 colors—and men know eight. Women say coffee,
mocha, copper, cinnamon, taupe. Men say brown.

Women know an Amazon of colors I might have said
were green, an Antarctica of whites, oceans of colors
I'd stupidly call blue, fields of color, with flowers in them
I would have said were red.

From women, I've learned to love the browns,
the earths, the dusts, the clays, the soft colors, the colors
brought out from the mines, hardened ones,
hardened in fires I would call red; the colors of the furies;
the reconciling colors of the cooling ash.

By myself I know the evening colors when the sky goes
from blue to another blue to black—although it's a lonely,
whitish black sometimes,
like the color of sleep—
the way dreams are lit by the light that's thrown
from nowhere on the things you find in them. Last night
there was a turtle, I would say it was brown or green,
or it was a snake, mottled, a kind of grey, disguised
as a turtle, red spots as if painted on the shell,
a palish greenish underside—vulnerable, alone
swimming in water I would say was colorless.

I woke to the pale colors of the morning—no one
has a name for those: the white-rose white you see
through the white of the curtains on the window,
the milks, the creams, the cream a galactic swirl
before it turns to brown when your wife stirs it in the coffee,
the faint drying oval on the silver of the spoon.

Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 1999)

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This poem originally appeared in the January 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

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MEN SAY BROWN

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