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