Colour Blind – A poem

Colour Blind   By Lemn Sissay

If you can see the sepia in the sun
Shades of grey in fading streets
The radiating bloodshot in a child’s eye
The dark stains on her linen sheets
If you can see oil separate on water
The turquoise of leaves on trees
The reddened flush of your lover’s cheeks
The violet peace of calmed seas

If you can see the bluest eye
The purple in petals of the rose
The blue anger, the venom, of the volcano
The creeping orange of the lava flows
If you can see the red dust of the famished road
The white air tight strike of nike’s sign
the skin tone of a Lucien Freud
The colours of his frozen subjects in mime

If you can see the white mist of the oasis
The red, white and blue that you defended
If you can see it all through the blackest pupil
The colours stretching the rainbow suspended
If you can see the breached blue dusk
And the caramel curls in  swirls of tea
Why do you say you are colour blind when you see me?

17 thoughts on “Colour Blind – A poem

  1. Pingback: Colour Blind | reporting & writing

  2. hi there
    Great poem. Love it!
    First time I read Color Blind ,about 7 years ago was on a pocket size edition… . It was a some sort of sampler… Black Poets… can’t remembered how I got it, unfortunately it is lost now.

    On that copy your poem a bit different. It had the same meaning but some of the words were different. It was like a simpler version, simpler words… Could you please post that version. I would love sharing it with my students

  3. I love color blind people because you see, they are usually pink when they’re born, white growing up, red when they’re ill, blue when they’re dying and….they call ME ‘colored’? I’m born black, I was black growing up, I never blush or turn red with shame or fever and when I die, we’ll I’m still the same color: black!

  4. I am, or rather endevaour to be, colour blind when I see you, because I am acutely aware of a long and ignoble history of colour based discrimination, and for this reason I am keen to judge you on the content of your character, and not on the colour of your skin. So I try not to see the colour of your skin, which is admittedly impossible, but the intention is noble and should be seen as such.

    • Rasmus.. clearly you are on the other side of the equation much of the time. All it takes is a sprinkle of compassion to understand the poem.

    • My poem is how it looks from the other side at times. It’s what poems do. Have you heard that saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?”

  5. I am taking this poem to read at a poetry class I go to where we take a poem of our choice in the last two weeks. I think it is beautifully and cleverly written – the wide ranging and evocative images, the rainbow colours of those images, echoes of Kipling’s ‘If’, and the punch line at the end which is so effective when I heard you read it. It’s very accessible which never hurts and says more to me than any number of the courses on the subject (I did plenty) in the 1980s and 1990s. I shall be reading more!

  6. please explain the deeper meaning in the poem so we can ensure that we are understanding it correctly as we want to present it to our grade 11 class as a extra credit activity?

  7. Hi Lemn,

    About 20 years ago now (goodness, has it been that long!?), you came to speak at an event at my college – Carmel, in St Helens. You spoke beautifully, shared some of your work (including a memorable note about how you “practiced your walk” in front of a mirror!), and were very free and available with your time after the event to answer my questions and give some guidance.

    Any road, I just wanted to send you another “thank you” for that. Coming from a smaller town, where academia, creativeness, eloquence and all the rest was often looked down upon or made fun of, this experience was a very positive one for me. Though I never made a career from writing, I do still enjoy casual attempts, and encourage my three year old son to explore the arts.

    I love this poem. Your commentary on a hypocritical phrasing, ignorance of identity, and the beauty (and challenges) of difference. Being blind to colour is being blind to inequity, and though noticing and respecting difference is only an early step on a journey of love, it is a necessary one.

    Take care,

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