Distinction Without Difference

by Bob King

Or difference without distinction
because my optic nerve frequently
gets tripped up by linguistic sparring,
and for some reason we all tend
to think if we can see it, then
it must be true. If it’s a black & white
photograph, it must be a memory.
But color is the collaboration
of the mind and the world, says
Cezanne. This is to say that without
language, the color seen is meaningless.
Or else, how do you tell teal from navy
from turquoise from cobalt from
midnight from Virgin Mary
aquamarine from Marco Polo
indigo from just feeling sad?
And the trumpet trumpets
some kind of blue. When he
unweaved the rainbow, Keats
thought Newton ruined forever
said rainbow for all of us, exploring
the science behind instead of just
beholding the beauty like the dumb
apes we are, gaping by the shopping
cart corral in the grocery store lot
as we fumble with the new pocket
with retina display to try to capture
the no-filter Cindy Lauper true colors
of the arcing ephemera after a soothing
spring rain. ROY G BIV. We often
make up our minds to see what
we want to see instead of seeing
what’s actually to be seen. Percy
Shelley, fighting with his fellow
Romantic, instead thought rainbows
revealed one million colors, not
seven, and even if he was prone
to excessive exuberance, he could
also account for gradients beyond
just seven. Poets, like scientists,
can’t be originalists. Comrades,
all constitutions are bound to morph.
But Newton said seven, and since
you’re stuck on making color singular
again, or trying to shackle color
again—depending on your political
party—you yearn for halcyon days
when a rainbow only represented
one. But white isn’t the absence of color
but is instead all-inclusive, you loud
& uninformed heathen. The more
uninformed, the louder, by the color
of it. Instead, try diving into the palette
of possibility, into the cosmos of small
details. In the painting of a color, titled
by the color, of that color among
gradients of that color, we exist.
Like oranges painted by a ginger,
then titled ORANGES, among persimmons
nectarines, and tangerines. A bowl of fruit
on the side table isn’t as snack-worthy
as a ceramic blue bowl full of various
shades of orange jellybeans. Care
for some orange pop, Orange Crush?
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
Still lives are never quite still.
Frank O’Hara could paint oranges,
title it SARDINES, and I’d love
the play of orange next to blue,
just as Van Gogh loved the laws
of complimentary colors and decided
to learn how to feel color differently.
Color and language don’t hate.
People do. If they choose. Hate’s a way
to look at colors—others—from an
uninformed place, an unexperienced
excuse for not learning. So, choose not
to lay one symbol on another symbol,
one color onto another, one lie to disguise
another lie. Can’t we ever be more material
than metaphor? Darwin’s theory doesn’t
undermine the existence of god; it
undermines the godliness of man—
we—from our eyes, with their millions
& millions of rods & cones, to almost
every part comprising the colorful whole—
are products of processes of long-term
slow mutations, not specially, spiritually
ordained/created & charmed & finite
organisms. We’re never as special
as we think we are. We are distinct,
different, and all slowly, constantly,
kaleidoscopically transforming.
Here, take a look. It’s really beautiful.

Inspired by On Color by David Scott Kastan and Stephen Farthing (2018), Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (1959), Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins (1998), “True Colors” by Cindy Lauper (1986), “Orange Crush” by REM (1988), and “Why I Am Not A Painter” by Frank O’Hara (1957), The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quamen (2007).

Bob King is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University at Stark and holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and Indiana University (MFA, poetry). His poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Narrative Magazine, Muleskinner, Allium: a Journal of Poetry and Prose, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Northwest Review, Quarter After Eight, and Green Mountains Review, among other literary magazines. He lives on the outskirts of Cleveland with his wife and daughters.

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