Finger Paints and Crayons

Free image from Pixabay. Thank you to the creator TanteTati.

What comes naturally to you, when you think of writing? It is definitely poetry in my case. Even as I plot for my first attempt at NaNoWriMo this year, I find myself doing more poetry and less character development. I like to begin my day by reading a poem and try to pen a few lines before I call it a day. Sometimes I only land up writing a single line. But it makes me glad, as ‘happy as cider bottle/In spring after it’s sent/a fresh bubble up/and is about to pop its cork’ (Olav Hauge, translated by Robert Bly).

Is ours a marriage made in heaven, I wonder! Or, mere serendipity? I was a keen elocutionist at school. My English teachers would literally push me into the library and ask me to look for a piece of poem, prose or drama to perform. As a result, I would land up reading immensely before deciding on a worthy piece. I am grateful to my teachers.

Writing poetry didn’t happen until I was twelve. It was part of our home assignment. I don’t remember what I exactly wrote but the last line has stayed with me.

Don’t ask for freedom, get it, she tells me!  

The propellor was the flight of a bird. A pat on the back was enough for me to fill up an entire notebook with verses in a short span of time. From my memory, I recall being vocal about several social causes and most of them finding a spot in my poems. I remember being influenced by a lot of social literature. And it so happened that I stumbled upon it everywhere- the school library or homes of friends or even the birthday gifts that I received. Was it a plan?

Well, one such book that I came across at the age of thirteen was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III. An enlightening collection of prose, stories inspired from real-life and poetry, the book carried a beautiful poem titled ‘Finger Paints and Crayons’ by Cheryl Costello Forshey.

I am not sure how many of you have read her words but I carried them in my heart for a long, long time, reading them out to my students as a teacher; pulling out the poem during recitations and making sure it reached far and wide. Later, I tried looking for more work from the poet, the links to some of which I add here.

Before I introduce you to the powerful piece of poetry, I must add that a reflection of the style, the story-telling in verse can be found in many of my poems too. Yes, Finger Paints and Crayons holds a very special place in my life.

//i am the tiny verse that rested on my tongue awhile

even as it sugared me for an entire life.//

I must add that I write the poem here as it appears in a personal copy of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III. In case of copyright issues, you are requested to drop a mail to me. (It’s a long poem but worth your time!)

***************

Finger paints and crayons.

By Cheryl Costello-Forshey

With chalk in hand she wrote her name across a board once bare,

And then she sat behind her desk without a single care

And for fifteen minutes she did not make a sound

Until the final student had finally settled down

Then she stood before them, and told them all her name

And then politely asked, each student to do the same

Then without hesitation, she took papers from a sack

And placed them in two piles, one white, the other black

And deliberately, quite slowly, with a mischievous smile

She began handing out the papers, up and down each aisle

And once each student had a piece; she continued within their sight

To gather two piles of crayons, one black, the other white

And then she took a painting from behind her walnut desk

Then placed a painters smock, overtop her navy dress

And to no one in particular, she spoke in peaceful tones

“I have been working on this painting, for years in my own home.”

She stood staring at the painting, its brilliant colors mixed as one

Upon the vast horizon, the presence of a sun

It was indeed not a Rembrandt, a Picasso, a Michelangelo to say the least

But it nonetheless was beautiful; its presence spoke of peace

And no doubt that lovely painting, had taken so much time

For every color known to man seemed to intertwine

And so it came with wonder, what they witnessed with surprise

The act that took them all off guard, done right before their eyes

With finger paints now gathered, and opened on her desk

She smeared the colors upon her hands, in an entangles awful mess

And then as though she had lost her mind, she smeared her hands across

The painting once so beautiful….now a total loss

It did not make a bit of sense, they did not understand

As they sat and watched their teacher wipe the paints off her hands

And then she took the crayons, and went up and down the rows

And handed to each student, the colors that she chose

“Now”, she told the students, “I want you to create

A picture filled with beauty, devoid of any hate.”

Mouths dropped open widely, mumbles filled the room

and students looked to one another, as unasked questions seemed to loom

For the students with white paper, were given crayons the same shade

And the students with black crayons, had been given a raven colored page

And how could one create splendor, with no colors to mix and match

The students were quite certain, their teacher had left out most of the facts

“Teacher”, a student’s voice was heard, “I am not so sure I can”

Staring at the white crayon and white paper in her hand

Silence overtook the room, it eerily crept about

Causing the teacher’s gentle voice to erupt into a shout

“You each share the same problem, you each possess the power to resolve

But only the students with open minds, will have the ability to solve.”

Minutes ticked away, the class was nearing to an end

And not a single student knew quite how to begin

And when the bell rang out, and they hurried to their feet

Their teacher told them commandingly, to return back to their seat

“Before you leave this classroom, I think you each should know

For this assignment, you receive a failing grade, for you have no work to show

And tomorrow, and the next day, your assignment shall be the same

And those who fail my class will have only themselves to blame.”

The next day, and the following, the students weren’t quite sure what to do

Until at last, a solution, began to surface through

When one student with his crayon, and paper both in black

Turned to the student behind him and asked, “May I borrow that?”

The student hesitated, but then gave up his crayon made of white

And ultimately the assignment, no longer seemed a plight

For students all throughout the class switched crayons, up and down the aisles

And certain they had found the solution, their faces lit with smiles

And just as every student began to draw, across an empty page

The teacher whom they had all began, to see as certainly quite strange

Collected all the pages and crayons, without a single mark

And then spoke aloud, “Thank you for bringing hope into my heart

You see, I wanted you to realize that in order to create

A picture filled with beauty, devoid of any hate

You needed first to recognize that a problem did exist

And that a practical solution could be found, within your midst

And that racism is a problem each of us must face

Working ll as one, before it is much too late

And with open eyes and open hearts, we must see the person, not the color of their skin

And come to the understanding that racism has to end

For together, we are a family, we cry tears, we all feel pain

And thought we may not look the part, that’s exactly what we do

For crayons are just colors, that’s all our skin is too.”

Students looked about the room, a variety of colors on their skin

As the point she was trying to make began to settle in

The looks upon their faces readily explained

That they each were trying to contemplate; that indeed, they were the same

A nervous shuffling of papers and coughs throughout the room

Portraying the vital image, that fighting over crayons was a stupid thing to do

It was then each student realized, the purpose of crayons and papers the same shade

Was to prove that they needed to other color, to help fill their empty page

Silence seized the moment, as one student raised his open hand

And then spoke in hesitation, “I just don’t understand…

Why your took your painting, the one you seemed to enjoy so very much

Gathered up your finger paints, to destroy it in a touch.”

Sadness filled her face, as a tear trailed upon her cheek

And in slow and heartfelt words, she began to speak

“To show you each that colors can be beautiful, but they also can destroy

Everything we love and work for, everything we each enjoy

And the destruction of something that i loved, was to make a point to you

That racism destroys the beauty in us all,

And that fighting over colors, is a destructive thing to do.”

*****************

Thank you, dear readers, for being here. You may check out The Most Beautiful Flower and Daddy’s Day also. I am sure you will love them both.

This post is part of # Blogchatter Half Marathon and I am introducing myself through some of the poems, prose pieces, monologues that shaped the writer in me.  

33 thoughts on “Finger Paints and Crayons”

  1. You are born to be a fine poetess Sonia. No wonder then the universe conspired to bless you with teachers who pushed you to your chosen art.!
    And for the poem that you shared… thats profound. Wish the world today has more teachers of this clan.
    Take away for me from this post… I will gift my daughter ‘Chicken Soup for Teenage Soul III ‘

  2. I always feel that poetry is harder to write because you need pithiness to convey your feelings . And more than anything else I feel it is written with soul . When I am moved by something, describing it in verse comes naturally to me so I thank you for sharing these lovely words

  3. Hi,
    I so enjoyed reading this post. I am a fan of al the Chicken Soup for the Soul . They are all wonderful and teach us something that we should think about and change in our hearts and mind.
    Shalom aleichem.

  4. I have always your admired your work, Sonia. Loved how you introduced yourself and the poem was so beautiful ! Very glad that you joined the #Blogchatterhalfmarathon & I am looking forward to reading future posts from you.

  5. OMG! Goosebumps. I can’t express in words what reading this poem is doing to me. One thing I will say is that it’s making me miss my teaching days. Perhaps, it’s time to go back.

    Also, I can see how the power of this poem must’ve hit you– like a tsunami at the tender and impressionable age of 13!

    Curious to know if this poem influenced your career choices?

  6. Sonia, I’ve always enjoyed reading your work. I’m no poet at all but I admire at how poets can convey so much in a few lines. It’s nice to get to know you more through more of your writings. Looking forward to the remaining posts.

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