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Brown Study

Honorable Mention – 2020 Poetry Contest

First cited in the sixteenth century (specifically in a book called Dice-Play), the expression [brown study]—which describes a state of intense, sometimes melancholy reverie, really seems to have hit its stride in the nineteenth.
—From “Golden Brown,” by Sadie Stein, in The Paris Review

Today we say we’re blue. Though down in the dumps is also true,
where brown reigns, landfills full in the process of decay. 

We’re young when we ask about others’ favorite color
or their favorite food. Simple questions compared with
“who, from history, would you most like to meet?”

For the record, mine is brown, the mud of all colors. 

Status: non-color. Called drab, dun, dull—brown is far
from dismal. That’s gray’s fame. Excluded from color
wheels, brown thrives in subtlety on a blue planet. 

Gold lives in brown, in the weave and hand of fabric,
in the burnished seed, in the grain of sand. Lion’s mane.
Hazel. Topaz. Amber. Fossil. Monk’s hood. Sable fur.
Mink pelt. A child’s first chestnut lock.

Brown understates itself, hues too ordinary for Pantone’s
color of the year. It’s the water from swished brushes
poured down the drain, primary becomes primal—
the earth where we place our feet. 

We plant. We pave. We build. But cracks expand,
birds peck, and brown finds its way to the sky. 

Under snow, brown wrestles to be noticed, until sun
exposes chocolate furrows stark against white. Soil
clings to evaporation, travels invisibly in January
wind until it settles elsewhere, cocoa powder on
meringue drifts in highway ditches.

In spring, brown reminds us it’s alive. Georgia’s bare
terra cotta vies with afternoon sun. Motes rise from
vast fields and travel for miles to alight upon the early
sparkle of lakes or adventure on to rafting rivers,
before resting for a time on umber banks. 

By summer brown is everywhere: roofs and porch floors.
We sweep dust that settles as soon as we turn away.
Dry winds blow summer brown through chinks—
dust storms swirl in the southwest. Cracked mud flats
buzz with copper wings. Sulfur earth bubbles in bronze. 

Brown is life’s first and last color,
tadpole emerging from primordial ooze, lifespan
turned to wood, bark, earth. Human evolution.
We all go back to brown.


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Dawn Hogue’s novel, A Hollow Bone, was published by Water’s Edge Press (2017), and her poetry has appeared in the anthology Through This Door as well as in Stoneboat Literary Journal, Inscape Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2017 Hal Prize for Poetry. 

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