Summer 2006

Colors / Tawny

The light you’ll never know

Eileen Myles

“Colors” is a column in which a writer responds to a specific color assigned by the editors of Cabinet.

I drove up to Santa Barbara this weekend with the question under my belt of whether CA is tawny or not. I thought this is something I can do while I’m driving. The driving is a new problem. I mean I love driving because it is the greatest opportunity to listen to music and music pretty much comes from young people with few exceptions so I’m sailing up the coast on someone’s young vibes and a bright slap of marigold is zipping along the highway with me for a while but you know marigold is such a businesslike color. It’s usually the one bright color an otherwise boring situation has to offer in the way of energy. It’s like “bright.” This is unrelated to tawny but I’m just letting you see how I open up the color. The biggest driving problem (and this has been true for a while, but before I lived in CA it was chiefly on book tours I had this problem) is that while aimlessly driving across America (my favorite thing in the world to be doing) I get stabbed by an idea—and maybe I have a big pad of paper next to me on the seat but usually I have some fucking receipt for gas (most likely) and a big thought comes—one like this:

When Moses hit the rock with a stick and water came he didn’t think great now I can always do that.

Obviously I can’t lose that thought nor the one about tawny so—do I write it down? I bought an iPod for this 
specific purpose—so I can connect an iTalk to it and then talk into it when I drive in my truck. But then it turns out you can’t plug an iPod into my truck. I could if I had a cassette player but no, I have a CD player, which doesn’t do the trick.

There’s another radio way so I bought that product but San Diego has so many bandwidths all used up with you know wonderful conservative radio yapping. How much does Jesus love you. A big sign over the freeway says this. It’s his back with his arms extended. He loves you this much. And the sun of course is pouring down his backside. Is Jesus tawny is a thought. Having failed utterly to record my thoughts by pressing a button while I drive I have instead devolved in another direction. I call myself. After Eileen delivers her cheery greeting I go: I drove up to Santa Barbara this weekend with the question under my belt of whether CA is tawny or not. Satisfied I hang up.

It’s interesting: there’s a wall along the freeway over there and there’s green dabs of paint every so often on it and a sun pouncing down. It feels kind of warm so the color isn’t right but there’s a feel. I’m thinking tawny isn’t a color. It’s a feeling. Like butter, the air in Hawaii, a feeling of value. Is anyone tawny who you can have. You know what I mean. It seems a slightly disdained object of lust. Her tawny skin—face it, used that way it’s a corrupt word. It isn’t even on the speaker. It’s on the spoken about. She or he is looking expensive and paid for. So I prefer to think about light. Open or closed. Closed is more literary light. Or light (there you go) of rooms you pass as you walk or drive by but most particularly I think as you ride by at night on a bike so you can smell the air out here and see the light in there, the light of a home you don’t know and feel mildly excited about, the light you’ll never know. Smokers with their backs to me standing in a sunset at the beach are closer to tawny than me.

In Santa Barbara I hooked up with Bruce and Jill and before we parted we went to such a restaurant, awful by the sea. One of Jill’s friends was in a wheelchair looking out at the sea and I just thought how rough for him to be in this place looking out and imagined the landscape of tawny being huge for him. Unbridled, the whole world. I don’t think of disabled as being less but tawny is even more somebody else’s if you never go to the beach alone anymore and there you are looking out. I don’t smoke and so I think of Bruce as having more access to tawny than me standing there on the horizon having a smoke being nostalgic because there’s little else to do when you’re smoking pretending to feel. I miss it. I miss it exactly like that. The cigarette being a little rouged by light.

Jill and I talk quickly about pussy while Bruce is away. Getting any. You slept with Chris. Two hundred hours. That’s all anyone got. That’s amazing. Chris was this very cute butch who died of cancer a few years ago. My age. And I’m not stone like Chris but I’m a bit of a man, and yet before she died she wanted to give me a massage. And that was a feeling. Her kind dying hands rubbing all over my body. I gave myself up to whatever feeling she had, and it was in the late afternoon and the grass in her backyard was spectacularly green. The feeling was golden. Have I said it. Pretty much yes. It’s a beautiful sadness.

Driving back down the coast the next afternoon (spent the night in LA) after deciding tawny was not what CA had it’s more of an East Coast word I had it all alone in the late afternoon driving. I want to return to Moses for a moment. He probably thought this will never happen again. He looked around. What can I possibly say.

Michelle Lopez, Car, 1998. Child’s convertible driving vehicle covered in vegetable-tanned leather. Courtesy the artist.

Eileen Myles lives in San Diego and New York, where Hell—an opera for which she wrote the libretto—was produced at P.S. 122 in April 2006. She is currently finishing up a novel, The Inferno, about the hell of being a female poet.

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