Dim lights come on, and seven women wearing different colors come out onto the stage. The lady in brown approaches the lady in red.
The lady in brown starts describing thee "dark phrases of womanhood" (17). Teenage girls dance without rhythm to a melody-less tune. She wonders if they are all ghouls, animals, jokes, or if they have gone crazy. All she hears are screams and promises. She calls for someone to "sing a black girl's song / to bring her out / to know herself" (18). "The black girl" has been silent for so long that she does not know how beautiful her voice sounds. However, her song is filled with possibilities and she will be born through the "righteous gospel."
Each of the women, the lady in brown, the lady in yellow, the lady in purple, the lady in red, the lady in blue, and the lady in orange, states that she is from "outside" a different city: Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Manhattan, and St. Louis. The lady in brown proclaims that this piece is all for "colored girls who have considered suicide / but moved to the ends of their own rainbows" (20). All the women come together to recite the traditional rhyme, "mama's little baby likes shortnin, shortnin" (20) and the nursery rhyme about little Sally Walker, who sits in a saucer and shakes it to the east and west. Then, the lady in brown tags each woman and they all freeze until the song "Dancing in the Streets" starts to play, and the women begin to dance.
The lady in yellow says it was graduation night and she was the only virgin. She was out driving around with her male friends in a black Buick, laughing about the speeches during the afternoon ceremony. Everyone in the county who graduated that day was thinking about where he or she would go next. Meanwhile, the lady in yellow and her companions go to a party at Jacqui's house and get drunk. Someone's hand was on her leg but she was not frightened, because all those boys knew she got too upset when someone went too far, and they had all been best friends since the seventh grade.
The lady in yellow describes dancing with all her friends to "Stay" by the Dells. To demonstrate, she sings along, inspiring the lady in orange to get up and parody her - but the lady in yellow shuts down the joke with a stare. She remembers being filled with glory, shouting, "WE WAZ GROWN WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN" (23). A fight broke out, and Bobby whispered to her that they better go. They ran away to the Buick and he started looking at her like she was a woman and whispered something soft in her ear. By daybreak, she could not stop grinning.
The other ladies ask the lady in yellow if she really "gave it up" in the backseat of a Buick. The other women chime in with their sexual preferences and lady in blue claims that even though she has never liked to grind, she likes the "mamba bomba meringue" (25). She continues by saying that her father thought he was Puerto Rican even though they were just "reglar niggahs wit hints of spanish" (25).
The lady in blue used to participate in dance marathons all the time. One night, she kept dancing until the disc-jockey announced that Willie Colon would be able to perform that day. She became angry refused to dance with anyone and would only speak in English. Then she discovered the blues and was entranced by the "magic of juju" (26) and would sneak into blues clubs where there "waznt no need for colored folks to bear no cross at all." She ends her monologue by calling it her "thank-you for music," to which she proclaims, "I love you more than the poem" (27). She concludes this section in Spanish, repeating "te amo mas que," and the other women join her chant.
for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf is a series of poems that run into one another other. They are spoken by seven women, each of whom wears a different color. The stage directions are simple; the women mostly speak, and occasionally dance or move rhythmically. The lady in brown reads the first poem, "dark phrases" and re-appears later in "toussaint."
"Dark phrases" serves like a prologue, introducing some of the major themes that Shange will explore later on in her choreopoem: womanhood, race, identity, and the transition from ignorance to enlightenment. The lady in brown evokes the hysteria, confusion, and fear that comes from not knowing oneself. The opening verses have a sense of imbalance: "half-notes scattered without rhythm/no tune" (she repeats this phrase later on as part of her plea to the audience to 'let [the black girl] be born.')
Shange writes in a rhythmic syntax to to invoke the significance of music as a vital mode of expression. She writes, "sing a black girl's song / to bring her out / to know herself" (18). At this point, the poem turns into a plea for to the audience/reader to come on this journey with Shange's characters as they chant, "let her be born." Shange frequently refers to "gospel" throughout the poem, referring to songs filled with possibility, hope, and empowerment. "Dark phases" serves as a platform and all of the poems that follow it chart the vicissitudes along the journey to self-realization. Shange re-emphasizes her characters' feelings of alienation by having each one repeat that she is "outside" a particular city, rather than feeling like part of the community.
The first poem after "dark phrases" is "graduation nite," a veritable coming-of-age poem in which a young woman experiences the joy of embarking on a new stage of her life's journey, both by graduating from high school and also losing her virginity. The tone of this poem is lively, ebullient, and positive. It invokes images of carefree adolescence. The lady in yellow and her friends, (who are mostly boys), celebrate their graduation from high school by driving around town, laughing, dancing, and listening to music. They are all enveloped in a sense of promise and hope for the future: the province of the young. The lady in yellow is confident, particularly in her dancing abilities. She avoids fights, even though some of her friends engage, and focuses on enjoying the music. She lets out her energy through dancing and song as she proclaims: "WE WAZ GROWN WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN" (23).
The lady in yellow also has her first sexual experience in "graduation nite," which is an important rite of passage for her. The lady in yellow is moving towards adulthood by embracing her burgeoning sexuality. She describes the men she is hanging out with as her "best friends," but suddenly, Bobby starts seeing her as a woman, and she sees him as a man.
Throughout many of the poems that make up for colored girls contain painful or violent depictions of heterosexual love and sex, but here, the lady in yellow enjoys her first sexual experience. Bobby does not pressure her - rather, she trusts him, and their encounter happens organically. Afterwards, she proclaims, "i just couldn't stop grinnin" (24). Critic Neal A. Lester notes, "this woman has a significant part of her identity, her sexual identity, defined positively for her." This example also debunks some critics' claims that Shange was mercilessly negative in her depiction of black men.
The third poem, "now i love somebody more than" is about music, dance, and poetry as well as a growing sense of self. The lady in blue remembers how much she loved dancing to Spanish music; it would transport her, making her feel like she was "jibariata herself that nite" (26) jibarita is slang for a traditional Puerto Rican country girl, a term that the lady in blue claims for herself even though she describes her family as "reglar niggahs wit hints of spanish."
The lady in blue is a fan of Willie Colon, a Nuyorican salsa musician and social activist based in New York City. His music was an integral part of defining the Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) identity in the 1970s and 1980s. At first, the lady in blue calls herself a "mute cute colored puerto rican," but as soon as she hears that Willie Colon has cancelled his appearance at the club, she claims her "niggah temper came outta control" and she "talked english loud." Therefore, besides being a quiet Puerto Rican girl, she also sees herself as an English-speaking African American woman.
After that, the aptly-named lady in blue discovers the blues, which she compares to "juju" (which is American settlers' slang for West African 'witchcraft'). She ends her poem by praising music. It seems as though music has been a way for the lady in blue to discover (and embrace) the different pieces of her racial and cultural identity and her diverse community in New York City. She describes music as her savior, claiming that if "jesus cdnt play a horn like shepp/waznt no need for colored folks to bear no cross it all." In this statement, she also indicates that music is a great equalizer where even religion has failed. Even though she has also developed a fondness of the blues, the lady in blue chooses to end the poem in Spanish, reminding the reader of her multi-faceted identity.