Brown Eyes

a poem by
JACLYN BURR | Teacher + Writer 



I’ve always been amused by a distinct memory from my childhood: arguing with my siblings over the color of my eyes. I have no idea why I felt so strongly about my eye color, and I remember my sheer shock at seeing my true reflection in the mirror. I’ve often wondered why this seemingly frivolous event has stood out so vividly in my mind, and reflecting on it later in my life, I’ve begun to see it as my earliest memory of awakening to myself. 

I REMEMBER arguing,
expelling all the wind from my shallow lungs,
blood blooming in my cheeks.
I defended what I knew:
my eyes were a lovely blue—
a misty, ethereal, shimmering hue.
As I shielded the radiant veneer,
my sisters’ snickers fueled my indignation.

Eyes welling with tears, I tumbled up the winding staircase—
an endless maze blocking my salvation,
limbs flailing, but guided by the lump in my throat.
In the bathroom I closed the door of peeling white paint,
as my feet slipped on frigid, 1970s, mustard tiles.
I glared into the mirror,
heart pounding in my chest,
but to my torrential shock:
fierce dark eyes stared back at me.
Not translucent water
or dynamic sky—
but heaviness, mystery,
and darkness, unyielding.

I froze against the piercing of my delicate facade.
As reality crushed imagination,
I rummaged for anything in the pieces of what remained.
It was the first of many phantom fantasies
I’d shatter along the way.

Finally, I strode down the steps
in calm reticence,
staring at this new world
through awakened shades of brown.

Originally published in Vox Poetica. Reprinted with permission.
Photograph by Alessio Lin
Jaclyn Burr
I am a 25-year-old high school English teacher in Brighton, Michigan. I grew up in a bustling household, as the youngest of five children, and now occupy my days teaching, spending time with family and friends, listening to music, enjoying nature, watching Seinfeld reruns, and reading. The human experience in itself inspires my art—in all of its pain, complexity, and wonder. From an early age, music, especially that of Bruce Springsteen, has instilled in me a quest for communication and validation of those questions we all ask ourselves on our journeys through life, and has lessened my feelings of loneliness. Through my life, I've felt the tensions between happiness and sorrow, desire and resistance, hope and disillusionment, dream and reality. I write in order to sort through these questions, to contemplate my own identity, or merely to add my frustrations, exultations, and questions to the discourse of the human experience.