The Color Wheel

A brief, poetic tour through the Ellsworth Kelly exhibition

It’s like colors
swam in off State Street
and up that steep glass creek
in the lobby
to spawn in this space of
warm wood
white walls
bright light.
Colors all jiggy with hormones,
crazy for mates,
pairing off for speed dates.
It’s a kinky scene:
red nuzzles yellow,
they mellow to orange
and blue goes green with envy.
Blue and red
take roughly to bed
and pummel each other purple.
And when the last
milt is spilt
the colors slosh to the far wall—
now bunged and bumped
a bit off kilter,
shape and hue
a little skewed—
where they kite
across their canvases
one final time.

And then they die,
bled dry by some
dour creator
with no intent at all
to tint his wan fruit
back to lush life.
A purgatory follows
of empty leaves
and transparent flowers.
Everything parses
into building blocks
of black and white
that crumble into
zeroes and ones,
to the static hiss
of all Earth’s rivers
racing under glass.

All seems lost,
if colors are your wishes.
But squint your eyes
and you may glimpse
in that primordial spray
the delicate fry
of chromatic fishes.
Play yang to their yin—
help them swim
around the corner
and give the color wheel
another spin.

—Tod Highsmith