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Telling the Red

I snap the geraniums in black-and-white, since that's what's in my camera. They sit in my bay window, catching sun from snow piled outside, and glow what my mother might call rather a brazen scarlet.

I cup my hands around a cluster of blooms - each single floret is fragile but massed, forming a greater sum, big as a fist - my palms turn hot with their light.

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But when I use the last frames of a 36-exposure 400 ASP B&W roll, focusing on the flowers, I know they will come out icicle gray.

And they do. How to explain that these leaves are a velvet green - at least until edges yellow and curl - though this time I recalled my mother's distaste for what's pass and clipped them before I shot.

And that pungent red stays red even when the petals shrivel, are officially done for. Yet seeing this glossy photo, one might suppose my geraniums were mere white, pink, even a sappy lavender.

But my mother, whose birthday would be today, insisted on positive attitudes.

"Oh, I can tell they are red," she would certainly reassure me, "but color is not what matters here in this print. See rather the interplay of variegated light against the curved and indented leaves, the pick-up-sticks grids of stiff spaghetti twigs bearing either blossoms or leaves, versus the thick main stems you've let grow leggy, ungainly. Darling, do cut them back....

"And note the rotund heaviness of the pots; one knows they're the color of rusty brick. And the planes of ceiling and wall, of course they are white as the snow on the black branch outside. As for your voids...."

And yes, I am all too aware of the voids.

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"But look," she would also point out what I see only now, in the space of the pane, "did you know you caught a cardinal in flight? You can tell by the crest. That's a male, and his is very red."

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