We do not see colors anymore,
when we tire we think of the world without us,
of each of our deaths
like the death of a color: thistle, sweet lavender, monkshood.
Our fathers remembered colors
as old men who used to swim every day remembered ponds
they used to steal off to,
blues like rivers that rise and flood,
Nabob blue, Luxor blue, Zaffre blue, bluesilvers buried
like fabulous beasts below the frostline

Long lists of colors we learn like pharaohs,
like names in the Bible,
colors like huge continents sunk into the sea,
Brittany blue, Normandy blue,
colors like sacked monasteries.
All that is left of colors are the labels,
even they soften and scrape off
like paper off bottles soaked and reused.
Reds were the last colors to go, drained like old clarets
we knew we would never taste again.

Dark red, dark cardinal red, peachwood, mulberry,
purple madder, Pompeian red, Moroccan,
we thought if we said the names of colors
we could adapt to the darkness in each
like aviators in dark rooms before their night missions
staring into low red lights.
Lying in bed we could teach ourselves colors
saying them to ourselves like timestables: bonebrown, bistre brown
old ivory, deep olive, buff, iron buff, yellow brazil wood,
seed pearl, stone yellows, burmese gold

If we said the names of colors aloud, we thought
we could see them again like weathers—say sleet, summerwinds
and we recall the day our father died
or we went too far from home.
Heron blue, dark teal blue, swan blue, bluish grays
light violet blues, colors
fluttering across small clearings
like birds whose wings have been clipped,
the posted sanctuaries
and botanical gardens of colors.

Colors brewed like home remedies,
blues from chicory, flaxflower, gentian, larkspur, cornflower,
herbal medicines whose bittersweet teas
we taste like tears at the back of our throats,
a geography of tastes,
ceylon blue, persian blue, alexandrian blue, dark medici blue,
cloister blue, tapestry blue,
colors like old wirelesses, old victrolas
that used to work. All we ask is that you touch these names
as if they were colors

Our fathers spoke of color with fear and longing like a sea
they had crossed as children,
this incidental blue, this blueviolet
that rubs off winter briars,
this pelican and gull gray, bluehaze, bat and bear’s hair,
hudson seal, dover gray, pilgrim gray,
rose taupe, slag and steel gray,
wrought iron, cobblestone, tailgunner gray,
battleship gray, shadow gray
dark gray, very dark gray, charcoal gray