Laura Kasischke

A Girl’s Guide To Color*

Do you remember pleasure?
Your favorite sweater?
A flattering scarf, a smart
cap, a pair of stones

dangling from your earlobes?

What color was it?

There are certain colors we all want to touch
on the right girl at the right time. But great

care must be taken. Short-
waisted, short-legged? From

your hemline to your hat you must wear a single shade.

Plump?
Break it up. A bright
coat. Orange
belt. If

your complexion’s ruddy: no green for you, and don’t

forget—the darker the dress, the smaller and smaller
it will make you. Pastels, however, enlarge and age
you. Either

take advantage of this, or avoid it at all costs.

And, as gold is strictly for brunettes, dirty
blondes must not wear blue. Another

rule: lilac, coral, and chartreuse. And

O, unlucky redhead, so many colors not for you.

Have you ever seen a sunset
clash with the sea or the sky?

Such is a redhead
in a yellow blouse
to the naked eye, and yet

so many girls make such mistakes
without ever knowing why, while

others seem as if they hardly
need to try. Witness

Cynthia, enchanting in her purple suit, high-
lights in her copper hair:

Cynthia would never wear rose and green together!
In fact, she’s sewn this skirt herself—knowing
as she knows instinctively so

many things—that there are lovely bits
and pieces of everything, and that
a girl can’t simply buy these. She

needs to learn to make them for herself.

Take Cynthia as your model, then—and
as she has done, if
you need chiffon
get yards and yards of it at once, and then
divide it up among
all the girls in your club.

And when you one day stumble upon
those girls, wearing
your chiffon, do not be jealous of them.

Do the stained
glass windows of Westminster Abbey
begrudge one another their radiance as
the sun passes from one to the other?

It’s natural to be nothing, to become it. Just

do the best you can with what you have for
as long as you manage to have it, and

try always to remember how a color can
influence the mood of any man
who looks in its direction—and

knowing this, as you know now, decide
early in your life, would you rather

be a little jenny wren in winter-berry red, or
a parrot
in a crate
stowed below
the ship’s deck? Our

friend Kiki was born without a sense
of color, but
she has a sparkling laugh, and that’s

all some girls will ever
need: wearing the dumpy
uniforms of their class, and

still be a joy to see. But

let’s be honest, shall we?
Which girl would you rather be—​
Cynthia
or Kiki?

Would you paint the robes of the Virgin Mary
the red and black of a cancan dancer, or—?

This list grows longer as you grow older, but
you’ll find it’s
easy to memorize, and then
impossible to forget:

Too tall? Brown
jacket. Big hips? Never
a corsage of daffodils.
Are you a blocky girl?
If so, think
always of the cool
depths of Alpine
lakes. Flat-
chested? Avoid

the sky, the grass, the Pacific or Atlantic, as well
as any other great expanse, and you’ll
be fine, most likely. Only

a few such simple principles, and
once you understand them, you’ll
never need to crouch down and hold your

arms across your chest to hide your breasts again.
Or a hand between your legs to cover that. Have

you ever seen a maple tree in autumn try to disguise
the red of the leaves on its branches?  Have—?

Of course you haven’t.

Now the men are almost done.

Admittedly, it’s an odd era in which to be a girl. So
many options—and not just fashion. When

they slam the door and toss you a towel, perhaps
you should feel grateful. (Do you?) When

one them shouts, Quit crying, slut—you
should probably do as he says:

Clean yourself up, Kiki. Cynthia—​
you’re lucky we didn’t cut you.

Someday, you may feel blessed. For

now it might be best just
to get off the floor, get dressed.

*Some rules have been taken from the first chapter (“Color Magic”) of Teen-Age Glamor by Mrs. Adah Broadbent (1955).

The Pelican
          for Doug Trevor

Its ancient eye, with which it swallows what it sees.
And its flight’s complex machinery.
And a little girl’s drawing of one of these. Imagine

a crayon in
a delicate hand. The hoarse

rasp of waves over rocks, turning
even the largest of those cold rocks to sand. How

we come upon certain creatures
again and again. How the air is thinner and brighter
at the edges of our existences. That

bird’s strange and unexpected grace.  Miraculous—​

nothing more. Nothing less. I

could picture her, I guess:
your sister, the one
I’ll never meet, never met. I felt (forgive me) that

I could wither her, suddenly. The depths. Love’s
spectacular wreckage, those birds and their
deadfall, and then

how one might splash back into the world, bearing
your laughter, undamaged, as

a little girl’s drawing of a pelican
forever on her brother’s flesh. Here

she says, I had

to dive down deep to find
your joy. I brought it back.

Laura Kasischke’s most recent collection, Where Now: New & Selected Poems, was published in 2017. She has published nine previous poetry collections and eight novels, and has been the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in Chelsea, Michigan, and teaches at the University of Michigan.