“Primary Colors” by Marcy Rae Henry

The Old Bright Lady of San Juan, Steve Rhode

Primary Colors


Brown, adjective: ‘of a color produced by mixing red, yellow and blue.’

We are primary colors.  Primordial.  Los primeros.

Is it a matter of being first?   Or of being able to last?

Brown (of a person): ‘suntanned or dark-skinned.’

How to explain what it feels like to have

layers of brown upon you

layers of earth                                     dirty looks

and one too many ‘may I help yous’ in department stores?

What’s the problem?     That we caught too much sun?

Brown, adjective: ‘a color as of dark wood or rich soil.’

When the summer fell from the sky

above Puerto Rico                 houses splintered into wood

crumbled into dark soil

and dogs  on Playa Lucia were carried away by floods.

       In India an ark floated away with a flood

carrying not animals but books.

Seven still sit in the Big Dipper.

America ignored dogs      splinters           floods              tears

the people who’ve had citizenship for

over a hundred years.

Who has time for books when                 there’s no

water            medicina

  money                                                                           comida?

Brown, adjective: ‘a term associated with colonialism.’

     America recognizes some of its mistakes:

It isn’t India.                            But not others:         It was discovered         like a cure

       for an infectious disease.

We knew we existed before we were found

worshipping the sun                            and writing our own myths.

   But America forgets its browner people             its darker stories.

  When México quaked            and the ground

cracked                                                                                                                                   open.

   People were buried     like stories     beneath layers of earth.

  Layers of ‘not my problem.’

Brown, verb transitive: ‘fire indiscriminately at (a covey of birds, a mass of men, etc.)’

Who will unearth     stories of internment     by the children

now locked up and held by threat of discriminatory firing?

Our            abuelitos’   stories      about being beaten         in school    in Mexican America

for speaking en español       have become folktales

What’s the big deal?                                     It’s not Náhuatl Quechua

   Quichua         Guaraní         Aymara         Cherokee

   Mapuche    Taíno    Zuni…

Spanish is another history of the conquerors.              Color is a history of survival.

Written for a performance at
Chicago for The México & Puerto Rico Relief Fund event.


batido3Marcy Rae Henry is Latina born and raised in Mexican-America/The Borderlands. Truth be told, she was already a bit of a hermit before the pandemic.  But before that she lived in Spain, India, and Nepal and rode a motorcycle through the Middle East. Her writing and visual art appear or are forthcoming in Hobart, Epiphany, Thimble Literary Magazine, Pretty Owl Poetry and New Mexico Review, among others. Her fiction and nonfiction have received a Chicago Community Arts Assistance Grant and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship. Ms. M.R. Henry is working on a collection of poems and two novellas. She is an associate professor of Humanities and Fine Arts at Harold Washington College Chicago and a digital minimalist with no social media accounts.