“Color Study While Withdrawing” by Rachel Custer

Rachel Custer


The new couch is gray. Or it’s a color
called, in the inflated language of glossy ads,
puffed musk. Which, to be more precise, 
looking more closely now, is a shade of mushroom 
somewhere between morel and portobello. Why 
do I keep thinking it’s gray? 
          My daughter’s eyes
are hazel, but tend, certain days, toward gray.
If you’ve ever seen a foal just birthed, that 
so-fast tremor of skin new to air, my daughter’s
eyes are like that—the sense of being wholly
alive. My daughter’s eyes are gray.
I feel the pull, magnetic, of the time I almost
managed to escape this life, and that, too, is gray,
like if you ever mixed papier-mâché. Which
is wet newspaper covered in a flour and glue
paste. That pull is like this, holding a cold glop
of that grayness, when your only real desire
is to have clean hands.
My only real desire
is to look at the couch. That gray, textured,
tactile, so here. To avoid the too-alive gray
of my daughter’s eyes. To ignore the sick-
wet pull of the in-between.
        I swallow it all
and stare at the couch’s back. My daughter
watches mine.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

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Rachel Custer: “Mental illness (depression and anxiety) both inform and breathe life into my work, while simultaneously making it difficult to actually get work done. I write to escape fear, and to process trauma, and in a sometimes desperate attempt to purge the dank, poisonous landscape that is clinical depression. I write because I am compelled, and also because I love to write. Sometimes it’s hard to know if writing helps me stay sane or just adds to the negativity of my thoughts when I am in the grip of a depressive episode or panic attack.” (book)

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