The Magic of Brown by Kanwar Sonali Jolly-Wadhwa

Of all the wondrous colours
Spilled and poured
There’s none with as many shades,
As many shades as brown.

Brown, the colour of this land’s first born
Born from a land so brown
Leached and bleached with blood so red
Till white from the brown was born.

But brown being brown, 
And being all around
Seeped and trickled, 
Drip by drip, wave by wave.

Washed up these shores
Before and after walls
Braving depths
Scaling heights and all

Brown, we come
In shades and hues
Hot to warm to tepid
Until the day we’re all gray.

A cup of hot chocolate
In a white porcelain mug
Cocooned in my hands
A bud of brown wrapped in brown.

Like an earthen jar
Its empty hands 
Its usefulness
To carry what others won’t hold.

An exposed cinnamon back bent over 
In the fields by the freeway
A tired arm rubbed across 
A sweaty and grimy forehead.

Brown, the colour of questions 
My daughter has on her mind when 
She returns from school 
A brown building filled with white.

Is it what her own eyes see? I ask her 
Or words her ears have heard?
Hushed whispers across the table?
Or yelled out loud by the swings?

For her friends all
Fair and light-eyed 
Bless them, they haven’t learnt
To tell brown from white

It’s just a colour, I tell her
A magical one for sure
For so many browns within our house
So much to contrast and compare

Her beautiful brown face in the looking glass
Sweet as jaggery with a hint of toffee
Perpetual tease, her older brother
These days, honey with a bite of ginger

Brown, I say 
Is the yummiest colour
Of maple and pancakes
Waffles and hashbrown

I want my eggs
Fried brown and crisp
And bread toasted
To a crunchy sound

The go between
The merger
The happy compromise
Between dark and light

I have to agree, every once in a while
Brown does invite 
A sight that’s near
And a mind that’s narrow

I do admit 
I’ve gone into fight or flight
My face all hot
My fists squeezed tight

But brown doesn’t see red
You see, it was naturalized
This being a right
That might have been withheld

All the colours brush-stroking my life 
Deepening and enriching 
The palate I brought with myself
A loom strung with brown, black and white

A pattern all unique
Beholding the pour of milk
In a cup of Arabica
A swirl of brown and white

My buckwheat fingers 
Pressing down a creamy shoulder
Our brown and white heads
Bent together, laughing over a shared joke

We play a game 
Taking turns to go:

-A crusty loaf of bread, 
-Sticky, sweet caramel
-My sandalwood rosary
-The cedar plank of the garden swing
-Fingers writing codes
-Palms scrubbing floors
-Sable-hair paint brushes
-Pecan, almonds, chestnuts
-This writing table-that dining chair
-Pencil, palate, easel
-Piano, guitar, cello
-Hands in dishwater
-Hands behind the wheel
-Cinnamon cookie dough
-Tangy tamarind pulp
-Bird house hanging on the Oak
-A fragrant cup of chai
-Muddy puddles to splash and sail paper boats

Splash and sail?
Curling out her pink lower lip
Blackmail in her starry, vanilla bean eyes
Till I roll mine and turn on the faucet.

Two brown mermaids
In white bubbly water
Jets shooting fizz
Our arms entwining, fingers linked

Wheat with hazel
Our hands swimming like fish in sea foam
I Pull her in close
Her beats playing next to mine

An olive cheek resting
On my sun-kissed collar-bone
Rays breaking in through the window
Bathing bronze in gold.

KANWAR SONALI JOLLY-WADHWA is a writer and poet. She writes in English, Hindi and Punjabi with published poetry collections in all three languages. She has published a collection of essays, “Gender: A Cross-Cultural Perspective.  Her Doctoral thesis, “Women Writing Women’s Worlds” is currently under publication. A wife and mother living in California, she moved from India to San Francisco 25 years ago. She often writes about the intersection of her Indian and American lives.

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