99 Shades Of Gray

For some time I have been mulling over the subtle variation of gray that Portland offers in its skies (as well as roads and vehicles), yet the moment was not right, as the idea had not yet crystallized in my mind [1]. While I was driving to work this morning, though, I was struck by a series of short poetic images about the various vistas along the way in the fairly early morning and the different shades of gray that could be seen along the way. So, feeling a bit inspired, I managed to find a notebook to scribble down the short poetic reflection that followed. Hopefully, you all enjoy it.

At 5AM in Colton
There is no glorious false dawn to be seen
But instead a thin gray line on the horizon
Where rumor of the sun should be.

Hurtling past the hills by West Linn
There is a panopticon of low gray clouds
Where a cenotaph of fog should be.

A gray spectre races over slate gray streets
Under the lead gray skies
While sad love songs play on the radio.

And yet while a chill in the air
Huddles underneath the cloudy skies
The weatherman says that the heat will rise
To 90 degrees today.

And so these 99 shades of gray
Will soon be forgotten
In the blazing sun of a July sky
That will burn all the clouds away
Until the next day.

Although this poem is, at least by my standards [2], is a straightforward one, there are at least a few aspects of this poem that are worthy of comment. For one, the place names mentioned in this poem (Colton and West Linn) are areas that I traveled today on the way to work, and help to ground the poem in the reality of Oregon, for those who share the same sort of views along the way. There is a combination of repetition of words as well as a few unfamiliar words. Naturally, gray is repeated several times, as a thin gray line, as a gray spectre, as slate gray streets, as lead gray skies, and so on. Likewise, there are a few words that may be unfamiliar to readers. Panopticon, for example, refers to an all-seeing view, a slightly less familiar way of saying panorama. A cenotaph [3] is a monument to a dead person that does not contain the body itself, a word I learned from the Keane song “Black Burning Heart” and that tends to remind me specifically of the foggy highways of the Portland area. A spectre is another word for a ghostly spirit, and also a pun on the car I drive, which is a gray Kia Spectra, almost the most anonymous and ghostly car that one could drive (and this is intentional).

There are a few other intriguing sort of elements to this poem that pleased me to look at when I was finished writing and editing it this morning. There is a hint of internal rhyming (and occasional external rhymes) with sounds like gray, day, today, away, and play. There is the contrast between chill and heat, between the rumor of the sun in the morning that shows up at the end with a blazing sun that burns away all the clouds, and between the heaviness of the lead-gray skies and the thin gray line that was on the horizon in the first view. There are references to the three basic subjects of poems—love, death, and time, with the sad love songs, the spectre on the road and the burning away of the clouds as a reference to death, and the reference to time in both the time of day when I started thinking about the poem (5AM), the month we are in (July), and the fact that the clouds will be forgotten until tomorrow.

As is the case with much of my writing, there is a reflection on the subject of memory. For obvious reasons, memory tends to be a subject much on my mind [4], and my poetry has often been about memories, not only the act of remembering but also the fact that the writing of a poem puts what would otherwise be evanescent and fading moments and reflections in something solid that can endure, and that can remind us of those moments again when we read the poems later. Likewise, this poem is concerned with questions of truth—a false dawn (rather than a true one), the rumor of the sun (rather than its reality) coupled with the reporting of what the weatherman says. All of these elements help to make a passing and somewhat common observation something a little more substantial when they crystallize into the form of a poem.

[1] See, for example:



[2] See, for example:



[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/a-cenotaph-of-fog/

[4] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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