Of all the colors of red, carmine —
Dark, alluring, and relentless —
Speaks, ingratiating, of intenseness:
Of velvet chairs and heartless Carmen,
Not bleeding, but saturating through the senses;
From under that mantilla, black and winsome,
Ultimately to prove diabolical and crimson.
Ingenue, grande dame — vermilion, cinnabar,
Compete for the spotlight, antinomies deployed,
Allied with antimony and even now alloyed
In fire that strikes from each the avatar.
Mercurial indeed are incarnations of mercury
Incarnadine with low-life sulfur
In passionate retorts swirled murkily;
To think that such liaisons make us suffer.
Rival beauties are easy to mistake:
Who trails the regulus of Venus in her wake?
Pleiades or constellations of harlots —
All flounce and attitude, altitude and starlets,
And everywhere the stars incalescent in scarlet.
NOTES for Students of English
Carmine – A rich red dye made from cochineal insects.
Carmen – The title and heroine of a story (1845) by Prosper Mérimée, and of a grand opera (1895) by Georges Bizet. Carmen is a brilliant, seductive, fickle Spanish gypsy who is stabbed by her lover José.
Cinnabar – Red mercuric sulfide HgS; vermilion, also HgS, is made from cinnabar.
Retorts – A pun on “retorts” meaning both sharp replies and chemical vessels.
Regulus of Venus – A violet alloy of copper and antimony, Cu2Sb.
Pleiades – (Pronounced PLEE-a-deez) From Greek mythology, the seven daughters of Atlas. Pursued by the hunter Orion, they prayed for rescue to Zeus who placed them in the sky. Their names are given to a conspicuous loose cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus. (There the constellation Orion continues his unsuccessful pursuit.)
Six of the stars are clearly visible, but a seventh is not, for which there are two traditional explanations: 1) The seventh maiden has hidden herself out of shame for having loved a mortal; 2) the seventh maiden shines less brightly because, although her six sisters’ lovers were all gods, her own lover was only a man.