Four-Coned Ruth

A poem about how people sometimes see things differently. Originally published by Valley Press / Dead Ink, and inspired by Radiolab.

Four-Coned Ruth

Ruth was a tetrachromat
in a small town by the sea,
which meant she saw a colour more
than her neighbours’ eyes could see;

or rather, more than a colour more
than the common red, blue, green –
she saw the shades those mixtures made
and the secret shades between.

So: red for Ruth had a glint of green,
green was a grade of red,
and yellow grew from the bluest blue
like flowers from the dead.

If in every lie lay an anagram
which assembled, spelt the truth –
that was the way the world conveyed
its light to four-coned Ruth.

But Ruth kept quiet, mostly –
in that small town by the sea
one didn’t boast about the almost
extra-sensory.

See, what was known was what was felt,
and what was seen made sense,
and sense was shared. People were scared
of Ruth. She made them tense.

By implication, all their lives
they’d seen the rainbow wrong,
or not enough. If her cones were buds
on wagging small-town tongues

water would taste like sparkling wine,
sweet wine like dry vermouth;
you would be thirsty, fit to burst
if you were four-coned Ruth.

Let’s say she took a lover, Ruth,
in that small town by the sea –
and for argument’s sake, and to up the stakes,
let’s say that it was me –

and suppose her skin was as sensitive
as her irises to light,
then twice as much. Dark doubles touch;
we only met at night.

Then imagine a feeling, next to which
the times all tension spilled
to a shiver so pure it verged on air
would seem like a dentist’s drill

to a patient without anaesthesia,
turned in a rotten tooth –
let’s say my body felt that way
in the arms of four-coned Ruth.

Or so she’d tell me, when we met
in that small town by the sea,
where the sky would spit, and us within it,
iridescently.

But Ruth grew tired, eventually,
of the limits of my view –
I guess we saw things differently,
as lovers sometimes do,

and lasers can’t correct all defects
– trust me, friends, I’ve tried –
or even most; but come close.
Closer. Look into my eyes:

if you believe, for confirmation,
if you don’t, for proof.
You’d see what’s hid beneath these lids
if you were four-coned Ruth.

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