The Gourd Artist

by Ella Kennen

Night Sky Dream by Ella Kennen
For as long as the boy could remember, he had heard about his ancestors creating cups, bowls, masks, and musical instruments out of gourds. His whole life he had seen his father decorate the hard-shelled fruits. And he longed to be a gourd artist himself, but every time he had declared this wish, his father had said that he was yet not ready.

That night, the boy had a dream. A dark thread lay on the horizon. As he reached for it, the thread began to unravel. It grew and grew until it blanketed the sky. It became the night itself, with the moon and stars and wisps of clouds. The boy reached up and drew the night sky to him until it lay cupped in his hands.

After he woke, slivers of the dream world lingered over him. The boy lay for a moment, puzzling. A dream like that was no mere dream. Then he remembered his father’s words. “Training always starts with a sign.” The boy stared at his hands. Surely, fingers powerful enough to draw in the sky could work with a simple gourd. He grinned.

“I need a gourd,” he announced at breakfast, shifting back and forth between his feet.

His father glared at his restless limbs and said nothing.

The boy willed himself to be still. “I saw a sign,” he explained. “It is time.”

His father frowned. “It was the wrong sign.”

The boy’s jaw dropped. He closed his eyes, willing the dream to come back to him. How could something so incredible not be right?

“It was the wrong dream,” his father repeated, gently now.

The boy set his jaw. His father was wrong, he knew. But he also knew not to speak his mind.

“When will I be ready?” he asked instead.

“When you can see the world through the gourd.”

The boy tried to hide his frustration. “How do I do that?”

“I was like you once, restless.” His father smiled. “Do not worry. It will happen. Just not today. For now, the chickens need feeding.”

The boy sighed, then set to his chores. As he walked across the field, he frowned at the horizon, the very thing he had held in his dream. He thought about the smooth hard shell of a gourd, an empty canvas just waiting to be burned and painted.

Hours became days became weeks. And while the boy still ached to work on a gourd – man’s work, not this simple tending farm – his disappointment eased.

Then one night, the boy had another dream.

The world dwindled until it was just a patch of dirt. A hand appeared, nudging a seed into the ground. In his dream, the boy became droplets of rain, nourishing the seed. He became the sun’s rays, coaxing the young tendrils to reach up. Days and nights passed. The boy learned every part of the plant, from the fine hairs on its roots to each vein on its leaves.

The plant grew and grew and eventually flowered. When a bee came, the boy could feel pollen mixing with pollen. At the base of the flower, a gourd started to grow. And still the boy – the sun’s heat and the rain’s fuel – cared for the plant.

Then the hand returned to hang the now hard and ripe gourd. The boy’s rays warmed the gourd, drawing away its moisture. Molds grew on its surface, were wiped off, and grew again. Above the gourd, beside the gourd, within the gourd, the boy sensed the rhythms of the birds and winds and stars.

Suddenly, the boy woke up. The sky was purple, the air still. A year, thought the boy. It took a year or more for a gourd to grow and dry. And he had felt superior and impatient about painting and carving work that only took days, or even hours?

Though exhausted, the boy crept out of bed. He walked to the yard and stared at the rows of gourds, shaped like bells, pears, apples, globes, and giant string beans. Later that morning, his father found him in the yard.

“I had a dream,” the boy whispered, staring at a gourd. “The whole world is in there.”

His father nodded. “You are ready.”

The boy looked at the hard smooth shell that hid within it the earth, the waters, the sun. For a moment, fear gripped him. How could he put a brush against something so much bigger than him? “I... I don’t know what to paint.”

His father smiled. “Just follow your hands and your heart.”

And he did.


About the author and illustrator...

Ella Kennen spent her first 15 years living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She's been hopping around ever since and currently lives in England. Ella is a doctoral student in Public Administration. Her writing has appeared in such diverse publications as Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, Latino University, Girl's Life, and Appleseeds Magazine. You can find out more about her at

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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