Watercolor and graphite on paper
21" x 16"
THE COLOR OF ORANGE
When I bend legs I no longer know and clench gloved fingers I no longer recognize—despite the clear, disposable vinyl—I feel most myself. Neither disposable nor invisible. I spent years reading Sherlock Holmes, tracking horoscopes, and streaming vinyl LPs. Always looking for myself, some mysteries solve themselves. Holding a metal shovel that somehow dignifies the task of collecting others’ trash, I reach for artifacts of lives tossed somewhere between Here and There on the Interstate—95, 295, sometimes 2—and I remember. Mornings of butter on warm toast. Evenings of secondhand paperbacks and warm vanilla tea. No. 2 pencils on college-ruled paper and black-and-white crosswords. Ruby, olive, and navy-blue polished nails click laptop keys. Streams of thought turned to strings of words. Waiting. Always, for Him.
When I lower my head and tighten my core, I hear—whispers in puddles of oil and water—Don’t mix with Her, Them, Him—words float in the empty spots between Then and Now. As my eyes lock with my own reflection, I wonder about the concept of Self. Self-determination. Self-efficacy. Self-concept. Who are we? Who am I? Clothed in industrial-strength cotton, stripped of zippers, buttons, and adjustable waist straps, I am a body in a basket of neon cloth. I am Strong. I am a Survivor.
Greyhounds pass. Volvos and Chevys too. Some accelerate; others slow. Small children, noses pressed against side windows, watch. They do as I would and allow their eyes the space to linger. I too have questions. I long for answers as well. Grab your pencil and your lined paper, kids. I’ve got stories to tell. Tales of multi-purpose Easy Bake Ovens and Cabbage Patch dolls. Raggedy Ann aprons and Fisher Price castles too. Not all mysteries solve themselves.
The stories linger with the dust in my mind, but my audience has disappeared. Electric wattage everywhere. Dr. Watson always watching. Everyone on speed. So much to do. I, too, used to be busy. Waiting. Mostly for Him. Now, visiting day is like most others. Pacman on repeat. Asteroids everywhere. Space Invaders and Donkey Kong taunts. I wait. For the sun to rise and the plastic eggs—sunny-side up—to be served. Orange circles in orange cups. More plastic. Only nothing is perfect. I lose my focus and think of the orange leather clutch in the hallway closet. Gifted on my last birthday. An odd companion to my ruby lipstick in its silver tube. “Alien lips,” He’d laugh. I wonder if He hid goods there, too. Now, crimson rays clash with orange peel suits. Letters of thirty-six-point tangerine font clash with orange cream borders.
No matter, I’m used to clashes. Like frying-pan grease. Wars of words too.
1. Demons, Devils, and/or Dandelions
2. Gnats, Ghouls, and Goldfish
3. Droids, Disco Lights, and/or Date Nights
4. Gooseberry Ice Cream, Game Boards, Gummy Bear.
I push aside _1__ and __2__.
I make room for __3__ and __4__.
I play games of pinball, chess, and Mad Libs in my head. Check mates and continue to sweep. Swap nouns with verbs. Aliases too. Consume gallons of engine fuel, exhaust, and bitter pepper. Pepper spray too. Toxins, everywhere. Cough and carry-on. As my broom bristles sort through discarded dust and ungloved debris of others’ lives, I sweep the caverns and dark corners of my mind. Inhale the lavender, lilac, and daisies of my dreams. Prehistoric peonies bloom eternal.
Trash too. I bend and scoop Coca Cola bottles—five and ten cents a pop, Marlboro and Kent cigarette butts, stamped and shredded movie tickets—AMC, Regal, and lipstick-stained Starbucks coffee cups. Everything is branded. Me too. I am a brand of dollar stores, fast-food drive-ins, and deep-discount mattress stores. Of second-hand video game cartridges, VHS tapes, and metallic blue polish. Of 100-percent cotton T’s, vegetable soup, and create-your-own adventure stories. Graffiti painted walls, Converse high tops, and Hello Kitty plaid sheets. Of wars lost and words misunderstood. Of unknowing conspiracies and unknown names.
I’m used to clashes. Clocks too.
No ornaments allowed. No jewelry or memories either. I mark time by the movement of the sun and sky. Palms up, scorched by orange rays. Palms down, scorched of words.
I’m frying pan grease. Careful, it’s hot.
When I bend, sweep, scoop, and sniff, I feel simultaneously busy and most at peace.
Some mysteries solve themselves.
Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, unstamatic, The New Verse News, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.
Cathleen Cohen was the 2019 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, PA. A painter and teacher, she founded the We the Poets program at ArtWell, an arts education non-profit in Philadelphia (www.theartwell.org). Her poems appear in journals such as Apiary, Baltimore Review, Bindweed, Cagibi, East Coast Ink, 6ix, North of Oxford, One Art, Passager, Philadelphia Stories, Rockvale Review, and Rogue Agent. Her books are Camera Obscura (Moonstone Press, 2017, chapbook), Etching the Ghost (Atmosphere Press, 2021), and Sparks and Disperses (forthcoming, Cornerstone Press, 2021).