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Importing Color

Donna Hemans

[Editor's note: The following is part of a special series on the coronavirus pandemic, featuring original poems and essays by contributors to The Bare Life Review. New entries will be added every Tuesday and Friday. Previous entries in the series can be found here.]

During the ongoing shelter-in-place regime, I should be reading fiction and transporting myself to other worlds that might afford me a semblance of normality or familiarity. But I don’t seem to manage this ordinary activity of reading and escaping reality. Instead, I face the uncertainties occasioned by the pandemic by transforming pieces of furniture and objects in my house with chalk paint. Lime green now are a metal candle holder and an old beach chair I got when a friend moved abroad. A stained cookie baking sheet has morphed into a coral serving tray.

Each time I sit down to catch up on snippets of the news, I eye the pine television armoire and picture it a shade of blue. But even painting such a bulky piece is no easy task these days. Only smaller pieces are manageable. A complicated furniture painting job is not what I want to tackle now. Years earlier, I transformed a drab twenty-year old dresser in the guest bedroom and two mismatched side tables with navy blue chalk paint. The process was involved, not least because it was the first furniture painting project I undertook. I should have probably started with something small, but I didn’t. I forged ahead and relied on the forgiving nature of chalk paint to hide my mistakes. In the end it was beautiful and the color exactly what the room needed.

This time around, though, I want a little bit more from these projects. When I am painting the piece, my mind is at ease. I momentarily forget the isolation of sheltering in place, the inadequate responses of unprepared state and national leaders, the refrigerated trucks parked outside New York City hospitals to carry the dead, my parents in Jamaica I can’t travel to see, the months and perhaps years of recovery those of us who survive will face.

I tell myself, too, that I am simply importing color inside, letting the pop of color in these pieces reflect the vibrant life that was and that I expect will be again when the world emerges from the series of mandatory lockdowns. The colors I choose are varied and vibrant: lime green, coral, baby blue, a cake batter cream. Color seems right for these times. The virus has brought the world to a standstill, but colors can still reflect movement and growth, whether the underside of a new leaf, the inside of a conch shell, the midday or evening sky.

But I know, too, that I am thinking of rebirth. I hope to see our old selves emerging from this retreat from the world changed and somehow better, transformed into a better version of ourselves. And though I don’t want to take on a complicated paint job now, I know I will paint the armoire Aubusson blue, lose myself in painstakingly filling the crevices of the latticework with color and loosen up my mind by choosing a contrasting interior color.


Jamaican-born Donna Hemans is the author of the novels River Woman and Tea by the Sea, which will be published in June 2020 by Red Hen Press. In 2015, she won the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature for the unpublished manuscript of Tea by the Sea. Her short stories and essays have appeared inVol. 1 Brooklyn, Caribbean Writer, Crab Orchard Review, Witness, The Millions, and Scoundrel Time, among others. She has won grants from Black Mountain Institute, Millay Colony and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in support of her work. Her short story, "Bleached," appeared in TBLR Volume 3. Find her online at or on Twitter @donna_hemans.


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