My Son’s Painting: A Cover Image Story

Milkweed Staff — 04/07/2021

This painting’s petals remind me of another drawing my son did, at six.

At the kitchen table, in early November sun, we were painting a blue bowl full of squash, and the night sky, and red peppers strung beside a colander.

My father was visiting and we were talking of the elegy he was writing for a friend, a musician, who died unexpectedly. “We were having these ongoing conversations about the nature of consciousness,” my father said as he painted orange around a white square.

“About whether consciousness is wholly subjective, or whether anyone can ever really—“ he broke off. He switched his large brush for a finer one. “Michael argued that when we hear a piece of music, we each experience it entirely differently – we can never know another’s experience of it, and that consciousness is like that.”

My father looked up from his painting to study my son’s picture taped to the wall – the three flowers, outlined in black, which seemed to be blowing in the wind.

“When he died,” he dipped his brush in black, “I was left to continue the conversation alone, one-sided.”

He began to shape, in miniature, the blowing flowers, in the little blank square.

Later, I walked my father out to his car in the dark. “I really enjoyed sitting at the table and painting watercolors with you and Max,” I said.

“Yes, that was my favorite part, too,” he said.

“I love you,” I said. It felt strange and formal in my ears – crude boat touching only the surface of some fathomless ocean, whose rivered and colored currents I could not name.

“I love you, too,” he said.

His car pulled out of the driveway, and I walked back into the lit house.




The bottom flower is my favorite. Bent slightly down. The petals curve over the face, and some over each other. Only a little of the black center shows, at the bottom, where there are no petals to curl upward, and the other petals don’t reach. This flower is touched, above, by a little brief emerald light, its green softness round, found nowhere else in the painting.

When I ask my son about this painting (made when he was eight), he says “she brought a basket filled with many things.” Bright cloths, flowers, pumpkins. “But what about the sun?” I ask, “in the corner of the picture?” “That was just another cloth,” he says.