• • Originally published in The Moon and reprinted in Elsewhere (Plan B Press, 2007)

Poetry Writing Contest XXIV, First Place (2009)


“The Visible Spectrum” by Ellen Sullins of Tucson, Arizona

For me, the most rewarding writing often starts out as one thing and morphs into something else entirely. When I began this piece, I was light-heartedly pondering the question of what goes on (or doesn’t) in the minds of cats, but then the poem grabbed my pen and the rest of The Visible Spectrum wrote itself. The desire to return to that state of altered consciousness and emotional openness is what keeps me writing. — Ellen Sullins

Sullins will receive $1,000, a certificate to mark the success, and publication both online and in print.

The Visible Spectrum

By Ellen Sullins


She used to wonder a lot

about what went through the mind

of her old cat Sybil

and once she said to her old friend Jay

wouldn’t it be cool to spend a day inside her head

you know to really experience cat

reality and he said hmm maybe not

might make you crazy and even though

that conversation was years ago she still

thinks of it often and wonders if it might be true

that only cats can handle cat consciousness

and if so would it also be true that a cat couldn’t

handle human consciousness because maybe

what happened was her dad

was really a cat who somehow landed in a human

body with a human brain and that’s why eventually

he had to take that shotgun to obliterate

the consciousness so alien to his essence

but maybe she’s reaching a little there.


Or maybe not

because she also daydreams a lot

about waking up with new and improved vision

that would let her see beyond the currently visible

spectrum of light not to make bifocals

unnecessary but allow her to apprehend

the colors hiding in the really really

short and the really really long

undulations because wouldn’t it be cool

to experience something as incomprehensible as that

and then she thinks hmm might make her crazy

but then if she did

discover something like maybe

infrared smells like death or birth or maybe ultraviolet

has the texture of Aphrodite’s inner labia wouldn’t insanity

be a small price to pay and she’s reminded

of the people she knows who stopped doing acid

or peyote back in the day

because they knew…the next time

they wouldn’t have the will to come back

and all the ones who didn’t know

they wouldn’t have the will or didn’t care

but she’s been very fortunate and didn’t actually know

any of those.


Although her brother

did sort of loosely fit that category

after Vietnam except it wasn’t drug-drugs that got

him though he certainly did plenty of them saying why

should an emotional cripple any more than a physical

cripple have to give up his crutches let alone

his wheelchair and she remembers thinking that he did

have a point but then it turned out to be all the beer

in his bloodstream that day that either fucked

up his judgment or just persuaded him

to go on and blast through the stop sign

where the road dead-ends at the highway

with that big tree on the other side

either way they said he died instantly

and yes she says she’s wondered all the clichés

about that last instant of his

and her dad’s

like did they see the real and true face of god

in all its holy splendor and all but when she lets

herself imagine the full spectrum of feelings

they might have had then her own

reality begins to shimmer and sway

in a bendy-stretchy kind of way and she has to pull

herself back from even looking

at that land of melting clocks and buzzards

because what distinguishes her from them

might be nothing more than a gene here a peptide there

and even if she’s been saved so far by something like the fullness

of two entire X chromosomes you never know

when some little acid-base pair might just wink off or on

and she could very well join the ranks

of the unwilling or unable to come back

from such a place where the entire spectrum of all that is

is visible.


Ellen Sullins was raised on a farm in Missouri, but now seems to have settled in Tucson, Arizona. She holds a PhD in social psychology and for 15 years was a university teacher and researcher in that field. Since retiring from academia, she has divided her time between practicing psychotherapy and writing poetry. Her work has appeared in Nimrod International, South Carolina Review, descant, Concho River Review, Calyx and Red Wheelbarrow, among others. She is the author of Elsewhere, a chapbook published by Plan B Press in 2007.

“The Visible Spectrum” © 2007 Ellen Sullins

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