“Artist and Model,” oil and sand on canvas, by Georges Braque, 1939.

by Oak Morse

We were all one beautiful blend
of mama’s love. My brother,
the color of ecru, the other one
sepia, and me, ebony.

My grandma was from the
midnight blue age,
before Brown vs. Board,
back when there were bright
no trespassing stripes between
coal and pristine places.

Southerners saw life
through a dirty shade of sage
and my grandma did especially,
even through the late 90’s,
shouting to Mama the reason
you show the youngest more love
is because he’s light skin.

I had no idea light skin
was sapphire and gold,
had no idea that one could
be loved in various weights.
Had no idea the treatment
that I felt was neutral was due
to the onyx in my skin.

The sun dimmed to dijon;
my future got dark, darker
than the hole I wanted to
crawl into. Mama told Grandma
she loves us all the same.
Grandma said she couldn’t
because we are different people.
I wondered how different?

Cobalt and boysenberry
or like crimson and ruby?
That day, Grandma baptized me
into a whole new world of color,
hoping I would come out closer
to sandcastle than chestnut.

I grew out of the grey area
and looked into Grandma’s penny-
colored past. Grandma is simply
a descendant of an overworked slave
with rusted hands who wouldn’t let go
when the proclamation was posted,
all because master treated his slaves
like they were all coconut hued.

My grandma knows
privilege comes in porcelain colors
and she knows that the more midnight
you are, the more undesirable you appear.
Does she know where it all ends?

Many elderly I know,
of mauve and royal jade,
live with flames in their throats
and can’t help but blaze
any crossover that could possibly
get us to the other side.

My grandma is a beautiful,
beloved, coffee-colored woman
with a fiery red voice bleeding
through generations. I just pray,
when I turn grey, that the red
will never show up in me.

omega man

Poet and theater instructor Oak Morse was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature as well as a Semi-Finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Oak’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, PANK, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Menacing Hedge, The Nonconformist Magazine, and elsewhere. He has a B.A. in Journalism from Georgia State University. He currently lives in Houston, Texas where he teaches creative writing and performance and leads a youth poetry troop, The Phoenix Fire-Spitters. (@oak.morse)