Baltimore in Scarlet

I have synesthesia.

But, instead of seeing sound

or hearing color

-which results from cross-talk between

auditory and visual neurons-

…I see pain.


Through some accidental quirk of nature,

my right supramarginal gyrus,

the empathy “center” of the human brain,

has strong connections to my visual cortex.

When someone is in pain,

I see waves of iridescent crimson

radiating from the person.


When I was a boy,

a friend of mine fell off his bike,

and skinned his knee.

I tried to clean up the blood,

but it kept flowing,

in wave after sanguine wave.

It wasn’t until later,

at the neurologist,

I realized I was seeing more than the physical wound,

but the emotional trauma as well.



I walked through Baltimore.

I could barely see through the crimson haze.

Emanating from the chests

of those who marched

was a dull red, pulsing tired.

This hurt was not the sharp scarlet

of intense immediate pain-


This suffering ached ruby from years of being held inside.

This pain turned the air florid with anguish,

and suffused the very streets with vermillion.


I walked through a city in agony.

When I came home

and saw the riots on the news

(which I saw none of in the 10,000 strong protest downtown)

I saw the white pundits,

on their alabaster thrones,

cool and emerald in their calmness,

in their analgesic world,

piously decrying the  protestors-

citing damage to nerveless properties.

I wish I could show them Baltimore

through my eyes,

point out the rubies of torment in their hearts,

the aching ruddy hue painting the city.

I wish they could see all the shades of red

I see, when I look at Baltimore.



If I am to describe racism,
as I feel I must,
I choose not to give it beastly form.
It is not Cerberus or the Lernaean Hydra-
though I do appreciate the imagery-
something ghastly that,
after decapitating one head you
may yet be devoured by the others.


It is far far far more human than that.

A screeching pterodactyl does not
pull a white child away from a black one
while they are playing together in a park.

A snarling wolf does not clutch
its purse more tightly if
a black man is walking behind it
on the street at night.

A fiery demon does not become
indignant at your suffering,
interjecting that they too
have suffered.


It is far far far more human than that.

It is the quiet Vivaldi that
blacks have been whistling
ever so softly.
But now their lips are cracked and bleeding
now this country is cracked and bleeding
and the hip hop reverberates
into the Vivaldi
while anger reverberates in streets
while justice seems to be
peculiarly silent
while white people seem to be
peculiarly silent
as if race is an uncomfortable unspeaking at the dinner table that is better left untouched
until your stomach feels so sick at the silence
-that disgustingly stiflingly quiet silence-
that you feel the bass in your spine
you feel the rhymes ignite your nerves
and you let the anger flip that table
you shatter the silence
and you say
there is a multi-headed beast
it’s head is on these shoulders
on your shoulders
on his shoulders
and we cannot cut off all our heads,
no more than we can keep them bowed.

And they just stare at you.

And ask “why would you flip the table?”
Why can’t you sit down
at the hushed Vivaldi table
and tell us what is wrong
as eloquently
as whitely
as you can.