by Sara Ryan
violet is a spectral color. one might think the flower was named after the color, but it’s the other way around. violet has its own set of wavelengths on the spectrum of visible light. violet sounds a lot like violent.
on the spectrum of visible light, it is between blue and invisible ultraviolet. I sometimes feel this way, too, between invisible and the color of the sky.
on the drive to the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas, violet smatters the dry grasses along the highway. Texas wildflowers, in full delight. on the way to see rattlesnakes get slaughtered by the hundreds, it rains and the dryness blooms: giant spiderworts, prairie verbena, shy bluebonnets.
sun shines 263 of 365 days annually in Lubbock, Texas. violet light is the phenomenon of horizontal light that comes after sunrise and before sunset. somewhere between the Blue hour and the Golden hour, violet shimmers behind the sun.
in the amethyst mineral, neat stripes of violet flicker in the light. violet in a field of lavender, in lilac and mauve and weeping blackberries. violet is not the same as purple; it is darker, bluer, not as bright.
I lived for three years in a northern place, a place where I expected to see the northern lights. I never saw them. always in the wrong place at the wrong time. too asleep in my bed. the air too cold and dark for me to drive to the water and look. the aurora tracking app on my phone inaccurate and filled with numbers I didn’t understand: latitudes and longitudes and solar wind measurements.
auroras appear in quiet arcs or curtains; these auroral arcs are the most distinctive, the most visible. like bright green snakes in the sky—scales bleeding into soft light. once, I thought I had seen the lights, but it was just moonlit clouds. it is easy to mistake the two, but you can tell the difference because the aurora does not diminish the stars. they can be seen behind the glow.
blue and purple and violet lights are seen less frequently in the aurora, but they appear closest to the earth, when solar activity is high. sometimes, the lower portion of the auroral arc seems so close it feels like you can touch it. I wouldn’t know, though, because every time the lights flew bright above my town, above the dark and glassy lake, I was asleep, dreaming of violet.
my father is a gardener; he plants irises in the backyard. the iris takes its name from the Greek word for “rainbow.” included in the iris family are blackberry lilies, vespers, and snake’s head irises. violet sounds a lot like violent. we lop off the heads of the flowers at the side of the road and drown them in hand-me-down vases. the snakes lose their heads, too. children shriek with glee and hang them from their rattles.
Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). In 2018, she was the winner of Grist’s Pro Forma Contest and CutBank’s Big Sky, Small Prose Contest. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Thrush Poetry Journal, and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.