Chameleon

by Sarah Donkin (Univ. of Mount Union)

Second Place

Their eyes glow scarlet,

righteously angry and ready for war

against the charcoal structures our ancestors built this world on

when the arsonists of days past gave way to architects.

I tremble, crimson, behind them,

waiting for their fire to light my skin a color to better match

flames on the tongues that never stay hidden silently behind their teeth.

Open mouths provide oxygen to fuel each other on

I open my mouth but feel no flame,

only heated air,

begging me to burn through the towers that stain our fingerprints

with ashes from the last time the world went up in flames

 

But I never wanted to bleed fire.

 

I’ve been green before,

Fading emerald into the back of a pick-up truck

or mantis like the hay bales stacked high in a barn filled

with spiders and cracked windows and creaking floorboards,

while “ain’t” and “the goats need fed” float on the sun-soaked air

and thick boots root me to the ground.

 

You taught me how to do that;

to twist my voice into a drawl

and my hair into thick braids

and my fingers around the twine of the hay bale that I lift

up to my chest and swing into the loft

later, how to brush the shining straw out of my hair

wash the dust from my grass-stained skin

and sleep in shamrock fields while trailers rattled down the road

and pigeons cooed a spring sonata

 

I’ve been blue too,

bleeding cobalt into pages

singing sapphire into cool air while I hide behind a microphone.

You urged me to brighten;

perhaps into cyan

or cerulean to match the sky on your favorite kind of day -

I guess it’s for the best that you’ve never seen the navy that gushes from my fingertips

into whatever lies close enough to soak it up -

It’s too close to the dark grey and black that you insist I never slip into

even though you taught me how to match every other colour that surrounds me.

 

I was yellow a long time ago,

you never had to teach me that.

It was only natural that the sun made me want to be golden too;

my hair bleached maize;  

skin burned and healed into honey

glowing under daffodil clouds

and over saffron sand that shifted to embrace my feet with every step.

You loved it when I shone that color

even now,

you tell me to photosynthesize more often

 

Purple was never easy.

It took paint gliding over my eyelids,

and thick elastic bands pulling my hair up away from my face,

stretching my skin smooth.  

Inches of rubber between my heels and the tiles,

layers of lace and velvet hovering around my knees

or draped over my body and brushing the floor.

But I liked the magic sparkling over my skin,

even if it never reached my veins,

and you liked the lilacs and orchids that people tucked into my hair with their eyes

and silky violets they slipped behind your ears.

 

The orange that followed was always my favorite;

my shoes slipped off and left by the chair

while my apricot-soled feet pressed against lukewarm tiles

the layers of lace and velvet swirling around my legs

amber light flooding through the gaps between arms and waists

shining gold on my loosened hair

while you watched,

your tangerine drink clutched in a peach-colored hand -

I haven’t been that vivid in a while.

 

I’ve been wondering lately

what color my skin is when there is no background to fade into

 

My mouth opens again

as I try to catch a spark on my tongue

the way I caught snowflakes before my skin

knew what it was to fade in and out of different canvases

before you taught me how to blend myself with every color on the palette

because life is easier when you aren’t the contrast.

 

Now, I can match your every shade;

I’ve mastered the art of being a chameleon.

 

I was never smart enough to be invisible.