Notes on Red

Briggs Helton

  1. Don’t say pink when you could say red.

  1. The cardinal sings to a rose. The robin misremembers its apple song as a worm peers through skin.

  1. If the devil is white, the spirit is red. How many heads on the red dragon? Can you name the power of the red horse? Do you forget the moon’s color at the day of The Lord’s coming, but recall the garb of the Assyrians?

  1. Is your speech rusted or calcified? Is your silence living or dead?

  1. Make love on a red rug. Make love in the red parts of the body. Name your son Red when his mother fevers in gestation. Name your daughter Red when her father snores at conception.

  1. Buy rough towels to rouge cheeks.

  1. Hold your tongue. Hear the dumb sounds of the body.

  1. Signifiers for our modern semiotics of Red: stoplight, ruby, ketchup, mars.

  1. Joyce desires to unify red with green—emotion with vitality—while yellow connotes decay. In Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, yellow replaces red as the color of love. The sun: energetic, unstable. Love is always a color.

  1. When a star is close to death it turns red. Filling with blood.

  1. Red equals 11: master number to the Chaldeans. Longfellow used red 11 times in his translation of the Inferno: a warning of hidden dangers, harsh trials, and treachery. Images: a hand clenched and a lion muzzled.

  1. Repetition resisted is the register of thought: Say Carmine. Say Sanguine. Say Cinnabar.

  1. Suppression of context expands meaning: Strawberry soda.

  1. Repetition makes the world comprehensible: Strawberry Soda.

  1. Expecting repetition from the law of nature is the Stoic error: Problem of reduction.

  1. The red Tansey Paintings. Half-buried sphinx marveling at everything removed to make a desert. Four men, seated backward on their horses, monitoring a reflection of the past. Two men excavating the sea.


Briggs Helton is a public defense attorney in Washington. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in a number of literary journals, including RHINO and Colorado Review.