“Am I Blue?” by Alice Walker 1
Am I Blue?
By Alice Walker
“Ain’t these tears in my eyes tellin' you?" (Ella Fitzgerald, “Am I Blue?”)
For about three years my companion and I rented a small house in the country which
stood on the edge of a large meadow that appeared to run from the end of our deck 5 straight into the mountains. The mountains, however, were quite far away, and between
us and them there was, in fact, a town. It was one of the many pleasant aspects of the
house that you never really were aware of this.
It was a house of many windows, low, wide, nearly floor to ceiling in the living room,
which faced the meadow, and it was from one of these that I first saw our closest 10
neighbor, a large white horse, cropping grass, flipping its mane, and ambling about – not
over the entire meadow, which stretched well out of sight of the house, but over the five
or so fenced-in acres that were next to the twenty-odd that we had rented. I soon learned
that the horse, whose name was Blue, belonged to a man who lived in another town, but
was boarded by our neighbors next door. Occasionally, one of the children, usually a 15 stocky teenager, but sometimes a much younger girl or boy, could be seen riding Blue.
They would appear in the meadow, climb up on his back, ride furiously for ten or fifteen
minutes, then get off, slap Blue on the flanks, and not be seen again for a month or more.
There were many apple trees in our yard, and one by the fence that Blue could almost
reach. We were soon in the habit of feeding him apples, which he relished, especially 20 because by the middle of summer the meadow grasses – so green and succulent since
January – had dried out from lack of rain, and Blue stumbled about munching the stalks
half-heartedly. Sometimes he would stand very still just by the apple tree, and when one
of us came out he would whinny, snort loudly, or stamp the ground. This meant, of
course: I want an apple. 25
It was quite wonderful to pick a few apples, or collect those that had fallen to the ground
overnight, and patiently hold them, one by one up to his large, toothy mouth. I remained
as thrilled as a child by this flexible dark lips, huge, cube-like teeth that crunched the
apples, core and all, with such finality, and his high, broad-breasted enormity; beside
which, I felt small indeed. When I was a child, I used to ride horses, and was especially 30
friendly with one named Nan until the day I was riding and my brother deliberately
spooked her and I was thrown, head first, against the trunk of a tree. When I came to, I
was in bed and my mother was bending worriedly over me; we silently agreed that
perhaps horseback riding was not the safest sport for me. Since then I have walked, and
prefer walking to horseback riding – but I had forgotten the depth of feeling one could 35
see in horses’ eyes.
I was therefore unprepared for the expression in Blue’s. Blue was lonely. Blue was
horribly lonely and bored. I was not shocked that this should be the case; five acres to
tramp by yourself, endlessly, even in the most beautiful of meadows – and his was –
cannot provide many interesting, events, and once rainy season turned to dry that was 40
“Am I Blue?” by Alice Walker 2
about it. No, I was shocked that I had forgotten that human animals and nonhuman
animals can communicate quite well; if we are brought up around animals as children we
take this for granted. By the time we are adults we no longer remember. However, the
animals have not changed. They are in fact completed creations (at least they seem to be,
so much more than we) who are not likely to change; it is their nature to express 45 themselves. What else are they going to express? And they do. And, generally speaking,
they are ignored.
After giving Blue the apples, I would wander back to the house, aware that he was
observing me. Were more apples not forthcoming then? Was that to be his sole
entertainment for the day? My partner’s small son had decided he wanted to learn how to 50
piece a quilt; we worked in silence on our respective squares as I thought. . .
Well, about slavery: about white children, who were raised by black people, who knew
their first all-accepting love from a black women, and then, when they were twelve or so,
were told they must “forget” the deep levels of communication between themselves and
“mammy” that they knew. Later they would be able to relate quite calmly, “My old 55 mammy was sold to another family.” “My old mammy was — —.” Fill in the blank.
Many more years later a white woman would say : “I can’t understand these Negroes,
these blacks. What do they want? They’re so different from us.”
And about the Indians, considered to be “like animals” by the “settlers” (a very benign
euphemism for what they actually were), who did not understand their descriptions as a 60 compliment.
And about the thousands of American men who marry Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and
other non-English-speaking women and of how happy they report they are, “blissfully,”
until their brides learn to speak English, at which point the marriages tend to fall apart,
What then did the men see, when they looked into the eyes of the women they married, 65
before they could speak English? Apparently only their own reflections.
I thought of society’s impatience with the young. “Why are they playing music so loud?”
Perhaps the children have listened to much of the music of oppressed people their parents
danced to before they were born, with its passionate but soft cries for acceptance and
love, and they have wondered why their parents failed to hear. 70
I do not know how long Blue had inhabited his five beautiful, boring acres before we
moved into our house; a year after we had arrived – and had also travelled to other
valleys, other cities – he was still there.
But then, in our second year at the house, something happened in Blue’s life. One
morning, looking out the window at the fog that lay like a ribbon over the meadow, I saw 75 another horse, a brown one, at the other end of Blue’s field. Blue appeared to be afraid of
it, and for several days made no attempt to go near. We went away for a week. When we
returned, Blue had decided to make friends and the two horses ambled or galloped along
together, and Blue did not come nearly as often to the fence underneath the apple tree.
“Am I Blue?” by Alice Walker 3
When he did, bringing his new friend with him, there was a different look in his eyes. A 80 look of independence, of self possession, and inalienable horseness. His friend eventually
became pregnant. For months there was, it seemed to me, a mutual feeling between me
and the horses of justice, of peace. I fed apples to them both. The look in Blue’s eyes was
one of unabashed “this is itness.”
It did not, however, last forever. One day after visiting the city, I went out to give Blue 85 some apples. He stood waiting, or so I thought, though not beneath the tree. When I
shook the tree and jumped back from the shower of apples, he made no move. I carried
some over to him. He managed to half-crunch one. The rest he let fall to the ground. I
dreaded looking into his eyes – because I had of course noticed that Brown, his partner,
had gone – but I did look. If I had been born into slavery, and my partner had been sold 90 or killed, my eyes would have looked like that. The children next door explained that
Blue’s partner had been “put with him” (the same expression that people used, I had
noticed, when speaking of an ancestor during slavery who had been impregnated by the
owner) so that they could mate and she conceive. Since that was accomplished, she had
been taken back by her owner, who lived somewhere else. 95
Will she be back? I asked.
They didn’t know.
Blue was like a crazed person. Blue was, to me, a crazed person. He galloped furiously,
as if he were being ridden, around and around his beautiful five acres. He whinnied until
he couldn’t. He tore at the ground with his hooves. He butted himself against his single 100 shade tree. He looked always toward the road down which his partner had gone. And
then, occasionally, when he came up for apples, or I took apples to him, he looked at me.
It was a look so piercing, so full of grief, a look so human, I almost laughed (I felt too sad
to cry) to think there are people who do not know that animals suffer. People like me who
have forgotten, and daily forget, all that animals try to tell us. 105
“Everything you do to us will happen to you; we are your teachers, as you are ours. We
are one lesson” is essentially it, I think. There are those who never once have even
considered animals’ rights: those who have been taught that animals actually want to be
used and abused by us, as small children “love” to be frightened, or women “love” to be
mutilated and raped . . . They are the great-grandchildren of those who honestly thought, 110
because someone taught them this: “Women can’t think,” and “niggers can’t faint.” But
must disturbing of all, in Blue’s large brown eyes was a new look, more painful than the
look of despair: the look of disgust with human beings, with life; the look of hatred. And
it was odd what the look of hatred did. It gave him, for the first time, the look of a beast.
And what that meant was that he had put up a barrier within to protect himself from 115
further violence; all the apples in the world wouldn’t change that fact.
And so Blue remained, a beautiful part of our landscape, very peaceful to look at from the
window, white against the grass. Once a friend came to visit and said, looking out on the
soothing view: “And it would have to be a white horse; the very image of freedom.” And
“Am I Blue?” by Alice Walker 4
I thought, yes, the animals are forced to become for us merely “images” of what they 120 once so beautifully expressed. And we are used to drinking milk from containers showing
“contented” cows, whose real lives we want to hear nothing about, eating eggs and
drumsticks from “happy” hens, and munching hamburgers advertised by bulls of integrity
who seemed to command their fate.
As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating 125 misery, I thought, as I took the first bite and spit it out.
BIOGRAPHY (from Amazon.com)
Biography Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States' preeminent writers, is an award-winning author
of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman 135
to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National
Book Award. Her other books include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple
of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to
address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public