Sicilian Blue

Suparna Choudhury

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In an effort to make the work housed in our print issues available to a wider audience, yolk digitizes a select few pieces from each print issue! “Sicilian Blue” by Suparna Choudhury first appeared in the Vol. 3.2, Winter 2023 Issue.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

To slip into water is to risk crossing a border. Once you wade across that threshold, you, like water, sacrifice all form. You plunge down into heavy currents and are taken through secret subterranean caves where you can safely grieve the blue that lives inside you. Minutes, maybe millennia, roll by. No sound, nothing. Then, like a seahorse, you emerge above the ocean’s slippery surface, a smooth blue doorway back to light. Sea wind blows the salt off your skin and you re-enter the other world with clarified vision. 


Franco’s early memories are blue. Sicilian blue, lapis blue, Miles Davis blue. The kinds of blue where sunlight scatters off the sea and sparkles like a million shattered crystals. The blue of his mother’s shining eyes as she stood by the rocks, staring longingly as she did every day at the crashing waves. In delirious proximity to indigo depths. Jump! Dive! Slip slowly under the waves. She resisted the urge for another day. 
         He remembers the ache in her eyes during his fieldwork, interpreting ocean colour for its content of phytoplankton, Saharan dust particles, and plastics. His meticulous measurements are sometimes interrupted by the wild pull of a memory. She’d be standing, a halo of gold sunlight shimmering around her. Reeling in a whimsical summer dress, bare feet half buried in sand, the carrots, still covered in dirt, spilling out of her bag on the ground as if something had just happened and stopped her in her tracks. Nothing visible had ever happened though. She just wore that look every time, as mesmerised today by the same sea she saw yesterday, the waves rolling in the same direction under the same sun, the same moon. 
         Sometimes when he’s working in the lab, his mind conjures an image of her paper-thin heart in his palm and he studies it with the same searching eyes he uses to study water. How could such a bruised heart remain so soft? He shakes his head to move the memory, like a dog shaking water off its body, then returns to his focus at the lab—ocean colour.


Franco had been drawn to the contents of the ocean since he was a young boy. His pockets would clatter with shells he collected along the shore while looking up to check his mother was still there, her head and arms bobbing up above the waves, her face always exhilarated in the water. Content that she was still content, he stood, birdlike. Franco stared down again at the water that lapped around his little ankles, waiting for a sea creature.
         His mother had promised him that when he turned seven, they would take a trip to La Grotta Azzurra, the Blue Grotto. “The light there gets filtered in a special way, Franco,” she said. “It’s such a deep blue your whole body feels like a magical kind of sapphire.” Franco was intrigued by the idea that his body would feel blue. Staring down at his milky-white arms and legs, he tried to imagine what that would look like. 
         He loved to swim with his mother among the sea caves, but sometimes he’d look away from her, unnerved by the charge of her energy in the water. There was a moment when she’d slip away; he’d lose her to a different place and a tiny pang of panic would arise in his body. He’d find an excuse to need her, to bring her back to shore. That charge would then dissipate a little, and she’d be back again. 


Franco still has the seashells and the postcard with taxonomies of fossils and marine animals he’d gotten as a child. One August, his mother took him to the cabinet of curiosities that had once belonged to a real apothecary. It was now displayed in a room of old books that smelled like vanilla ice cream, in a Renaissance palazzo. Franco’s eyes were wide with wonder: rocks with jagged edges, crystals shining in shades he’d never seen, fossils of creatures he’d continue to look for each time he was by the sea for decades to come. 
         His mother bought him a postcard and offered to keep it in her bag, but he remembers the way his hand felt clammy, gripping it tightly and watching it bob up and down on the rickety train ride home that screeched and rumbled while cypress trees and withering jacarandas whirred by. A secret feeling of good fortune, as if he had somehow left with a miniature of everything he’d seen, all safely stored on a little rectangle of card just for him. He’d resisted the urge to study it closely on the train. He only glanced at it quickly, furtively, to savour the images for the quiet of his bedroom. Looking too deeply too soon might have disturbed this precious arrangement of creatures and gems. 
         He also remembers the cold metal of his mother’s rings when she held his other hand and how her voice echoed in the portico. “You know, Franco, it’s important to take care of the ocean so that all the creatures could keep living there, all the rocks could stay beautiful, and the water . . . this kind of blue.”


Standing at the shoreline on the Bay of Naples, the weight of his weary arms draws his shoulders seaward. Ocean colour is not just a thing of beauty, but a property through which to monitor the effects of climate change on the marine ecosystem. 
         Franco worked with algorithms to deduce spectral absorption and scattering by the ocean water. He’d become obsessed with phytoplankton and the effort to find the optical property that would best respond to the crisis, and it soon became his goal to identify optimal spectral bandwidths for six satellite sensors. Now, he can discern every shade he could sense in the relevant range. Especially the wavebands between 467 and 512 nanometers. 
         His colleagues are excited about publishing the findings and the academic race to announce novel results. Franco’s obsession is driven by something much headier: a fixation that mirrors his mother’s look as she stood at the edge of the water. 
         Franco shakes out the tension in his arms and finds his focus. He stares at the water, like she did, trying to calculate what sediment is being absorbed in order to produce that morning’s colour. 
         The ocean absorbed his mother. Like silt or algae or dust, she, too, must have changed its colour.

Suparna Choudhury is an interdisciplinary neuroscientist and writer working at the intersections between mind, brain, and culture. She studies experiences at thresholds like adolescence, birth, diasporic experience, and uncertainty. She is cofounder of Poetry Clinic, and a member of Educational Ecologies Collective. She was raised in London, is of Indian origin, and lives in Montreal.

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