Field Guide to Distinguishing Red Objects

Issue 5 | Winter 2020 |



1. I prepare to teach my students about cochineal, about the red beetle Dactylopius coccus that lives in symbiosis with the prickly pear. The Spanish closely guarded its trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and kept the truth about the source of their carmine dye a secret. Scientists debated and peered through their microscopes attempting to confirm berry or beetle or grain of cactus. Flecks of rust float up from the bottom of my old red tea kettle. If I Google corrosion, I will read that the cost of water could triple in the next decade.

2. Red clay of my birthplace. In the story, the stag’s heart beats red—bleeds red. Shrieks of mice in the jaws of scarlet kingsnakes, red corn snakes, northern red-bellies, coral snakes carried blood to my ears. Red after yellow deadly fellow, my mother hummed, Red after black good friend Jack. I learned this lesson as a child. If only stop signs existed for people.

3. I lived six years in a town without a single stoplight. My mind reddens with memory. I lived in Madrid. The Red Line took me from my apartment to the archives and back again. I slung my red leather briefcase on my shoulder. Crimson and cream; scarlet and gray. My father was red-green colorblind.

4. Red jasper; red hickory; red larch.

5. Hands chap: redbud blooms on my knuckles from washing again and again and again. I allow my niece to paint my toenails candy apple. The retired rover still on the red planet examines its robotic limb and takes another selfie for Instagram. A stone of red plum sits in the pit of my stomach.

6. Red dress will be left on the back of the chair, strapless bra slipping to the floor. I will tease my husband, lovingly call him “red beard.” Muted mouths red in morning’s soft light.