Joanne L. DeTore

The Color of Olives

A hot July day.
I spread the Utica Club Beer towel on the plastic
chaise lounge that sits on the wooden deck my father built
overlooking our above-ground pool.
The neighbor boys wait
with binoculars for this daily ritual.

With my glass of water and paperback
next to me, I grab the jar of cocoa butter,
push my fingers into the cool cream,
spread it on my thighs,
more basted chicken
than sun goddess.

I am 15,
trying to tan,
trying to fit in,
in the sun
cooking my skin
into angry red blotches
to appease my mother
as much as myself.

At least once a year
my mother asks our doctor,
“Is she anemic?”
“No,” he says, “she’s just light-skinned.”

I was “Mayonnaise Face” or “Ghost.”
Too light in a class filled with
olive, cappuccino, and espresso shades,
I stood out.

The nuns took notice,
gave me more difficult books to read.
I got Lord of the Flies,
they got Flubber.
I got more assignments,
had different expectations.
I was worthy.
I was white,
I was part WASP.

Sitting in the shade of my back patio,
preparing lessons to teach college students,
I wonder what I would have become,
who I’d be,
if I were the color of olives,
instead of cream.


Joanne L. DeTore, Ph.D. is a 3rd-generation Italian American from Central New York. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including Reed Magazine, Voices in Italian Americana, Italian Americana, Review Americana: A Literary Journal, The Apple Valley Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, The Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, Art Ciencia: Revista de Arte, Cincia e Communicacao, And/Or Literary Journal, and Florida English and in the books, Anti-Italianism: Essays on Prejudice, Fractured Feminisms: Rhetoric, Context, and Contestation, Joy, Interrupted: An Anthology of Motherhood and Loss;  and Sweet Lemons: Writing with a Sicilian Accent. She is an Associate Professor of Humanities and Communication at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach where she teaches a class on Italian American Film and Culture and is a member of the Executive Board of the IASA.