Discovering Colors in Prison

by Nancy Gomez


Do they ever discover new colors? He asks me.
He spends all his time in a cell so drab
no color could describe that emptiness.
But now I’m wondering, what colors does he see?
How would we name them? The bruised morning
sky through a slit too small to be called a window.
The boiled afterglow of sun hazed over by ash.
The dried crust of yard that grows only dust
and dead weeds and used surgical gloves
like so many discarded hands. The cold, tensile sheen
that buzzes off the electrified fence, the color of barbs
in barbed wire. The shadow of dried blood inside the lines
of chalk. Taser jolts. The burnt colors of fear –
more smell than color, vaporous and acrid.
The things that want to become colors and can’t –
the voice of someone who doesn’t visit,
photos so worn the faces are barely there.
The ugly colors you keep caged,
those refracted off betrayal, and hate.
Or heartache – the darkening hurt
that feels like all the colors crushed
into the one you see shimmering
when you close your eyes. You don’t discover these.
They discover you.

NANCY GOMEZ has been published in River Styx and Rattle. She studies with Ellen Bass in Santa Cruz, California, and is currently in the MFA program at Pacific University.