November: Sing a Song of Gray

I love November for its lack of leaves, its bare ground, and the poems it has inspired, like:

November/ Maggie Dietz
Like Coins, November/ Elizabeth Klise Zerneck
November/ Lucy Larcom

And, perhaps my favorite:

The Crazy Woman/ Gwendolyn Brooks

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”

I decided to explore what it might mean to “sing a song of gray.” This month’s challenge was all about gray.

The Gray Themes of the Day

Gray Poems

Gray Associations

elephants, mice, mold, ash, the South (in the Civil War), rocks, sidewalks, skies heavy with storm, The Picture of Dorian Gray, sweatshirts, geese, most cars

Other Gray Resources

everything gray, an account

Yesterday afternoon, in the chapel at Gustavus, which was not dim but not bright either, I started to notice that looking one direction, toward the far window on the other side, the only color I could see was an occasional red square embedded in the walls (I double-checked with Scott; there were also a bunch of blue squares too). The hymnals 15-20 feet away, which I know are red, looked dark but colorless. Staring out at the crowd of people, everyone looked like they were dressed in dark or light — not quite black or white, just dark clothes or light clothes. No variation, no purples or blues or oranges or anything but dark and light. It was strange, partly because it didn’t feel strange. It wasn’t like I thought, where is all the color? It felt more like when I wake up in the dark and, after my eyes adjust, I see the room and it looks like the room, but just darker, dimmer and without color. And, usually I don’t think there’s no color — sometimes I might even think I see color because I know my robe is purple or the pillow is yellow, or I don’t see yellow, but I recognize the pillow on the couch as that yellow pillow because I already know it’s yellow. Hope this description makes sense to anyone reading this, including future Sara.

only gray, a poem

Looking through past log entries containing “gray” I encountered this poem:

Listen/ Didi Jackson

Like a hundred gray ears
the river stones are layered

in a pile near the shed where mourning
doves slow their peck and bobble to listen

to a chorus of listening.
Small buds on the lilac perk up.

A cardinal’s torpedoed call comes
in slow waves of four,

round after round. It’s a love call;
a call to make him known to himself.

The stones listen harder,
decipher the song; attempt

to offer back its echo.
But fail.

This is not a poem of coming Spring.
This is a poem well aware

that gray flesh is dead flesh.
All of the ripe listening

comes at a cost. The first
sky is in all skies.

The first song
is in all songs.

Only gray is mentioned, and twice. Then it ends with this line, The first song/is in all songs. Is the first song, the song of gray? In this poem, that song of gray seems to be the song of death/the dead. I love the idea of the stones being gray ears.

a note about the process

As is usually the case with my monthly project, I did not begin the month intending to focus on gray and to explore what it might mean to sing a song of gray. Did I have a plan? I can’t remember because my first week of entries were accidentally erased (see 1 nov). I wanted to look at some November poems and memorize Brooks’ “The Crazy Woman,” and I’d been slowly, since September, thinking about how to return to my larger project of writing about my vision and how it feels to be losing the central part of it.

On November 6th, after thinking about gray as I ran and connecting it with gray hair, I wrote about getting older. After that, most days I didn’t have a plan of how to explore gray. Usually I searched for poems about gray or just started thinking about gray. At first, I didn’t explicitly connect my focus on gray with vision, but it kept coming up in relation to color. By mid-month (see 14 nov) I was working on 2 projects: singing a song of gray and figuring out how to use Ishihara’s colorblind plates as a form for poems about not/seeing color. Often these projects overlapped, sometimes they just happened beside each other. Now, at the end of the month, I’m working on them together. Having figured out the Ishihara form, and having created one poem so far (about yellow), I’m working on a gray poem, or a few gray poems.

I love these monthly challenges. They are so much fun, and often very helpful for my writing. But, they are tricky too. I rarely begin the month with a plan, and sometimes I never figure out a challenge. It’s more about being open to the process and waiting for a compelling theme to find me. That requires faith and patience and persistence.

Speaking of persistence, I began this running log in January of 2017. The official goal was to do a story project about running and training for a marathon. But, from the beginning, it was also about learning how to use words in better ways in order to describe how it feels to be losing my vision. On jan 23, 2017 I wrote the following:

A gray day. Warmish, but gloomy. Days like today make it hard for me to see. It’s not really dark outside, just overcast. But because of my macular dystrophy, overcast feels a lot darker. And it makes everything look fuzzy, like I’m seeing it through a slightly dirty piece of plastic.

Running really isn’t a problem when my vision feels limited like this. I can see well enough. And, since I’m mostly running on paths, I only rarely have to worry about cars. But it still feels…weird.

I wish I could articulate the sense of disconnection I feel when my sight is fuzzy. It’s as if I’m running in my own bubble.

Later that spring — in late March, early April — I used this entry in an assignment for my first ever poetry class: A Gray Day, 8 Versions. I was trying to find better words to express how I see strangely (and less clearly) on gray days. It has taken me this long, almost 6 years!, to return to this gray project.