our third grade paintings hung in a parade
above Mrs. Barron’s blackboard,
each one with its house, its car,
its regulation tree that no one climbed.
By Christmas vacation our painted parade
had grown into a giant rainbow snake
whose art board body wrapped around
the upper edges of our room.
It was that paper snake,
those quickly chosen paints
that shaped our need for color,
that showed us how we felt
and why our sky was never simply blue.
Once during Friday’s time for art
when we all had dipped our brushes
into our separate jars,
it was Howard’s hand
that mixed two colors into one,
that learned to paint
with every shade and hue,
the pastel pinks of dawn,
the brighter skies of blue.
We needed him to show us how,
needed to sample with our brushes
his new colors that would not fit our jars,
needed him to fill our room
with all his painted people
who were already bright and climbing
beyond the subtle shade
of all our blackboard trees,
beyond the hand of color
to paint the summer breeze.