By Andrew Berardini
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You’ll know that jet is black.
When she sings black is the color of my true love’s hair, it’s jet. The most beautiful and blackest of all blacks.
That jet is a stone, depthlessly colored, easy to carve and easy to break, you’ll perhaps already understand. It’s not a proper stone, but wood from a tree like the monkey puzzle, decayed under extreme pressure over time. An organic material, a living thing, crushed but not destroyed. Burdened, it endures.
Jet has a distance that does not give back.
When Victorians mourned, they did so with jet, polished to perfection, arranged in arrays. Jet dangled on the breast of the Queen and strung the necks of her subjects.
It’s name is a corruption, from Old French jaiet, derived from Latin gagetes from Greek gagatēs, meaning ‘from Gagai’ a small town in Asia Minor. According to one story, certain Rhodian sailors arriving in Lycia called out “ga, ga,” either as a request to the natives for land or on sighting land in a storm; they then founded a city named after this yearning. The ruins of Gagai are not abundant, its only true remnant is jet. When some sailors tire of the sundering seas, they yearn for the solace of jet.
Most jet is found on the shore.
Black absorbs all colors of course, takes them in softly and without judgement. The beauty of white is its rejection, refusing and thus freeing all light. The power of black is its kindness, its sanctuary, it takes all light into itself. Black absorbs and jet most perfectly performs this. Out of the sanctuary of blacks, jet is its softest shadow.
Jet is a tarnished shard of a black hole, as absolute as blackness can be and still be seen.
Darwin maybe said, a mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there. Calvin takes a black crayon to color black bears attacking a black forest campground at midnight.
These are the color of jet. A thing whose thingness is so powerful it becomes abstraction, pure color like pure math.
You may already know this, but you will not truly understand how perfect is the black of jet until that time when you will travel to the opposite end of a black hole, to the other side of a darkness so dark it cannot be seen, more ancient than any word we can give it.
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Mix mud with blood and you’ll get maroon.
It begins with a hum and ends with a ghostly moan, both lull and murmur, the hard center demarcating its otherwise soft blow. Long and lost and sultry. A distant story, a far-away place, never visited. A survivors’ refuge from a distant catastrophe never spoken of, backboned with gratitude for its escape.
But ghosts can’t really moan. So the sounds passes from living lips more spirit than flesh. The moan that gathers mouths for maroon still whispers sex. Move in unexpectedly close to your lover, place your cheek against theirs and utter a breathy ‘maroon.’ Your affair will cost dearly, but will be the only lover in your deathbed dreams. Maroon is a catastrophe, a sudden turn, its couplings a brace for survivors.
Maroon comes from the French word for chestnut, but wandering languages and lashing tongues trip into each other. Besides, it lacks the sanguinary stain of maroon.
Maroon can have a more dubious origin. Perhaps a Spaniard’s cimarrón, literally ‘mountain top dwellers,’ but more truthfully used for escaped household animals. Some francophones claim marron for ‘feral,’ and other scholars say the word falls to English from Arawak. Before their enslavement and murder, the Arawaks also handed down ‘barbeque,’ ‘canoe,’ and ‘tobacco,’ the last a lasting poison and solace for all those marooned.
In each case, it means the same. Dangerously wild, fierce, free.
Maroon names the escaped slaves who hid in the wilderness from Jamaica to the Great Dismal Swamp, living on the fringes. Plantation raiders and emancipators, maroons crushed some colonials into extracting treaties, others befriended and mixed with the natives, the other escaping American animals.
Maroon is the color of hard freedom.
The pirates picked up in their Caribbean rambling this word from the isolated islanders. Maroon became the punishment for a misbehaving sailor or a mutineered captain. Dropped off on a remote island, the custom was to gift the marooned a bit of food, a swallow of water, and a pistol with a single shot.
Those marooned and retrieved back into civilization always regret their return in the end, a hard freedom forever lost.