Things That Taste Like Purple

Anthony Tao

If you have ever

thrown down this white-hot buckshot,

creature of pocked carapace that hauls itself

back up the esophagus,

perhaps you would agree

that it tastes like purple

or something perched equally vertiginous

on the cliff of synesthesia.

Purple is how a friend

described the sorghum-based baijiu,

dust of the attic, wine of the gutter,

tasting as good,

osmanthus, blue cheese,

turpentine, hints of feet

with a long finish into the fetor of fragrance.

Baijiu is the nuclear option

on a night out,

like pressing fast-forward on the evening,

like purchasing a shame token for morning spending.

It has been called

embalming acid, firewater,

electric sunshine, bane liquor,

Satan’s vodka, Pure Joy, Swellfun

(which is actually the name of a brand in Chengdu),

philter for those who need it,

desiccant of the aroused spirit,

and, colloquially, That goddam shit,

smirking inside foil-sealed glass snifters

or vomit-green bottles on the neighborhood shelves

of bad and worse ideas,

an extended hand to pull you onto a sinking boat,

the first drink at the start of a slippery slope,

it has become shorthand for,

Let’s get drunk tonight, guv,

Let’s crunk at Coco Banana,

and friendship,

because true friends go bottoms up.

The other day,


around noon,

I got to thinking of other things that taste like purple:

surely that which is sour,

heirloom beets like bull’s blood,

Sacrament wine to the nonbeliever,

that which is strange,

wisteria without the word wisteria,

blazing stars, vervains,

scents like stinky tofu,

certain spices like saffron,

or currants, taro, tree fungus,

flash-fried amaranth, Job’s tears, the stain

of blackberries on vanilla ice cream,

and maybe shrimp chips.

But let us move away from this culinary pond

into the wider sea of the everyday,

where poetasters writing in rhetorical cursive

are practicing purple,

and the lawn without signage in November

is exemplifying purple, as a president says.

Purple is the place where unanswered Weixins wait,

where faint skies hide, and unfinished malls die.

Purple is the gaoler on the isle of memory,

and the pride on the toothy grin of your local peddler.

We can navigate the entire spectrum of color

and assign each hue to a noun, adjective, or conjunction

in all manners of action—

the and/or buddying up with orange,

pinchbeck grasping Zeta bar’s stripper pole,

chartreuse and foie gras frolicking on a plate,

mustard-ecru leaning in to kiss yuck

a foreboding bloodred for a pack of orcas

tracking a mottled gray-white calf

(probably along Sanlitun Bar Street),

a salamander pink for the Chinese acrobat’s anti-gravity,

a water’s gilding for the bristle of Tiger Leaping Gorge,

and the richest imprint of black

for the concert master’s smile

as she prepares to filch the breath of all

who have never heard the opening of Symphonie Espagnole.

Like this we can array

a world of whatsits and thingamabobs that otherwise

would suffer in the stark demesne of the nameless,

troglobites in their evolved blindness,

a ghost blowing your cap off,

feelings like

the trill against your sternum upon the perfect ostinato,

the dilation of a green iris debouched from shade into a field of gold,

and even catalogue our most minimal endeavors

as brown or beige, burnt or raw umber,

teal if we are beside a window watching the season’s first snowfall,

so that a tousle-headed boy asking a freckled girl to the Irish Ball

can be called rose madder or alizarin,

and her answer, whatever it may be,

just different shades of the same heart-wrenching blue.


Anthony Tao’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Borderlands, Cottonwood, Asian Cha, Naugatuck River Review, Five 2 One, and Poetry East West, plus an anthology of China writing called While We're Here. He lives in Beijing, where he recently coordinated the international China Bookworm Literary Festival, is the founding editor of the news/society/culture blog Beijing Cream, and co-captains the city’s premier Ultimate Frisbee team. He tweets sporadically @anthonytao.
Published March 15, 2017
© 2017 Anthony Tao