5 Stories and Poems from Vashon Island Writers
In late 2020, !Attention! Artists at Work announced “The Literary Project,” a literary Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry Project by Island writers. !Attention! Artists at Work is an initiative by Open Space for Arts and Community designed to hire artists during the challenging economic circumstances caused by COVID-19. 31 artists participated in “The Literary Project,” 23 of whom were financially impacted by COVID-19 and compensated for their submissions.
Stories from “The Literary Project” are now available to view for free! We are releasing the entire collection five stories at a time for the next several weeks. This week features stories and poems by:
Katy E. Ellis
Big and Black and White
By Jeffrey Zimmerman
I take a train to a bus to a boat. These early morning boats are quiet when the whole world is open for business. More so now. I go up and the sky is just getting light behind me. It’s clear and the mountains are coming in to view. There’s a chill but the air is clean. I’ve just spent hours in a giant warehouse humping freight. I’m off tomorrow. I’m happy about that. I think I hear splashes and I run back and forth from port to starboard leaning and straining and looking and listening.
I haven’t seen them in a while.
My car rumbles for a few seconds before reluctantly waking up. I have to leave it for my friend who has an interview with my boss today. She’s been hurting and she really needs the work. My boss likes me. I put in a good word for her, so I like her chances. If we work some of the same shifts, we can save a little on gas and ferry fare. That wouldn’t suck.
I roll into her driveway quiet. It’s just getting light out and I don’t want to wake anybody up. I slip the key under the floor mat, close the door and start walking. I stop short and spin. Take a couple steps back and take the Starbucks card out of my pocket. I wrote on the envelope “I wish you a Latte Luck!” I drop it on the driver’s seat and head off again. As I start walking through the field along the edge of the woods I look back and her kitchen light is on. She’s standing by the stove. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her without a mask I almost forgot what a great smile she has.
Smoke from the chimneys make the morning smell good. It’s getting lighter out and the sky is clear. As I head down toward the cabin, closer to the water, the smell of smoke fades and the smell of salt air moves in. My cousin and his friend will be getting up and making coffee. I miss having the cabin to myself but the money helps me and the spare room helps my cousin. His friend is on the couch. He’ll get his first paycheck this week. He promised to buy some groceries and cook us a nice meal.
I’m not ready for coffee. I walk past the cabin and down to the beach. The sky is big and blue now and the little waves are slapping the sand and that’s all I hear. But… I think I hear that splashing again. I walk to the water’s edge and look left and there they are. Seven or eight of them including the little ones. One of them flies up and almost leaves the water, big and black and white and just… just beautiful.
I haven’t seen them in a while.
Post Apocalypse Dream
By Susan McCabe
When the germ clouds cleared,
The Sun’s sparkle on humans was a warm bath of safety.
Isolation made us ravenous for the lifeblood of connection.
We emerged from our cocoons transformed,
With hearts wide open to the nourishment of touch.
Old white survivors exalted the black and brown people who had mopped their fevered brows, massaged their aching limbs and helped them breathe through their nightmares.
We learned that feeding each others’ bodies and souls has more power than cash.
We found that digging in the dirt and growing food tames the despair wrought by faceless overlords of profit.
We uncovered our wholeness in Nature, breathing air free of airplane exhaust
…digging our toes into the earth and loving our Mother back to health.
The shock of the Apocalypse finally broke the systems of abuse, freeing us to love unconditionally.
We remembered the healing power of music to turn our differences into distinctions.
Now every day now we dance together in a multi-colored flash mob.
By William Stott
I live alone. Except for a mouse called Alan Watts who, in exchange for shelter and food, provides peerless spiritual direction in being-here-now.
Alan indicates intensities
of experience with twitching whiskers and luminous eyes like ripe
currants, with delicate bones and senses honed to fine filagrees
of feeling, with muscatine incisors tracing hieroglyphs of ignorance
and attention in cheese and bits of fruit; with turds like thistle seeds
he composes an I-Ching in kitchen drawers. Still or scurrying he neither
bides nor plays tunes on the tympan of time. He does nothing but mouse
open the way for the sound of the shifting tide as it plays cracked
shells like castanets that strike my ear half mile away; for little brown
bats who fret the glaze of porcelain light with webbed fingers and
whispered clicks; for brine and diesel fumes to atone with mournful
notes of loons at midnight and the senseless silence of moonlight.
Alone and uneasy, still a novice in Alan’s way of wordless transmission, I once mistook a slight cock of his head as solicitation, and so recited for him W.S. Merwin’s “The Nails” in an effort to convey my sense of seclusion; it concludes:
The lightning has shown me the scars of the future.
I’ve had a long look at someone
Alone like a key in a lock
Without what it takes to turn.
It isn’t as simple as that.
Winter will think back to your lit harvest
For which there is no help, and the seed
Of eloquence will open its wings
When you are gone.
But at this moment
When the nails are kissing the fingers good-bye
And my only
Chance is bleeding from me,
When my one chance is bleeding,
For speaking either truth or comfort
I have no more tongue than a wound.
When I was through Alan stared at me mildly for a moment, then scurried off to chew on a peanut shell and shit in the knife drawer. Whatever it is I gesture toward with the word “I” seems as inscrutable as Alan, or as slippery as one of the herrings in Quartermaster harbor; yes, as shiny and tasty as a herring. I wonder, will I ever be consumed by the Eared Grebe of Awakening, extruded and absorbed into the Rainier of things? And how would I know it, if it did happen? I feel certain the fidgety part of me (call it ego if you like) conceives of such “absorption” as a chance to become my admirers.
land: to set down after conveying
By Katy E. Ellis
land: to set down after conveying
You live on an island now. We moved to this new home against your will. I feared your anger and resistance to this change. I worried your father and I made a selfish decision that would ruin your life and our connection to you. But you have adapted, grown, moved through circles at school and still visit friends on the mainland. You always come home to us, though I brace for the time you don’t, and I stretch my faith to believe our separation over time will be gradual as the carving of great canyons.
Do you remember I promised you bunnies when we moved here? Bought a hutch (we never used) for the side of the house near your bedroom. (Now we toy with the idea of goats.)
Maybe I wanted you to feel what I felt, tending creatures in my care one still-dark, frosty November morning before school.
I carried rabbit food and a pitcher of hot water to melt the ice I knew had formed in the rabbits’ water bowl.
The full moon’s presence illuminated the glorious selection of trees dotting our suburban Garden of Eden.
Moon hung in the diamond fog just high enough to not tangle in the swooping cables and crisscross steelwork of the transmission tower in our backyard.
(The ever-buzzing edifice we referred to as our power tower.)
It was the first of many times I sensed the strength of moon as holy spirit, electrifying my deepest self, gathering the reserves I would need for my future as a young woman growing up on this planet at this particular time among the grids and grinds of mankind.
The thing is, I don’t know what will speak to you and show you the way. There are as many paths to God as there are people. All I have is my faith in love and its power to provide us with strength to survive and thrive past times of separation and division. I can’t guarantee your happiness, or safety, or the outcomes of your decisions. But I can urge you to ask questions, ask questions, ask questions and to welcome uncertain answers. To hug and release, like your kindergarten teacher said to do those first days we left five-year-old you at school. Like the recorded voice on the commuter boat says every time we leave home and cross the water: Please hold onto seatbacks and handrails when moving about the vessel. Always be ready for unexpected movement.
This is what I want to tell you.
By Karen Nelson
The windstorm caused a black-out, whipping the cover off the less-than-forearm sized kindling branches uniformly cut and stacked on pallets— three rows wide, four feet high. The tarp was well-tucked when the draft un-looped, swooped under, lifted and flung the cover aside. That was the only spot on the property offered to the gale. The wind didn’t wake me in the night though everyone I met that post-storm, brilliantly clear, winter-sun lit day, said it did them.
It’s hard to describe that sunlight. On the public but privately owned beach, situated south facing to the harbor, the figures and voices of children, sea gulls, the odd blue heron, the lapping of waves into the sand emanated joy and relief at the unutterably beautiful moment we all found ourselves in. Invigorated, I began a movement practice; I knew my dance mates would join me when they rolled up.
I spotted the kayak pretty much immediately. High and dry and very alone and blue. Luminous, awaiting recognition, and filled with questions like— how did I get here? Where is my home? “Angler” (corporate name pasted on the side) sat so still, listening for answers. With all the many folks enjoying the space of that glorious beach, I was amazed to see no one even take a second look.
Except me. Exceptional me. Me, who’d been pining for a kayak for years. Me, who recognizes opportunity. Me, the improvisor. I began to dance with her, and eventually with help, at sunset we fit that kayak into my old Prius.
Before that decisive moment, I’d dawdled off to the waters edge. Interconnecting logs washed up from the storm provided endless stepping delight. I was jolted to a stop by the vision of a water-spirit woman very close to shore, beckoning to be recognized. It was the day after Lisa Marie Montgomery was not shown mercy, and rather, was executed by the (un)justice system. I watched this tree root sculpture bob, the woman’s leg appearing every other jostle of wave. I was squatting near the edge, wearing forgotten tree-branch antlers when two women came ambling along trying not to get between me and my visual anchor. Claiming I wasn’t a fanatic, I told them what I saw. They stopped, turned, leaned in…. and told me of a BBC report that empathetically tells Lisa’s story. We three recognized and mourned her in that moment.
I stored the kayak in the yard for the next few days. Borrowing a life jacket and paddle, I arranged to meet a friend on another beach, facing west. We toted the kayak to the water and took a few turns paddling around. How different to be in that water-based kaleidoscope of early evening light rather than watching it from the shore.
We nestled Angler into her cover, still lost, yet also somewhat found. Still looking for home, possibly already there, and surely continuing towards an unknown future.
About the Authors:
Jeffrey Zimmerman: I am originally from New York and lived in the New York Metro area for most of my life. I lived briefly in Central Florida (twice) and for a couple of years in Los Angeles. I have lived on Vashon for about 12 years. After visiting Vashon every year at Christmas time for a decade or so, I moved here to be closer to my brother, who has lived here for over 20 years, and his children who were raised on the Island.
In Junior High and High School I aspired to be a writer. I majored in English at SUNY, New Paltz and, while there, worked as a bartender. I eventually managed a couple of different bars and, life being life, I worked more and wrote less until I wasn’t writing at all.
I had a career in the Same-Day-Delivery Industry starting at a bicycle and truck messenger service in NYC and eventually as an IT Director at a couple of different publicly-held national logistics companies. My last job in that industry was working remotely, from Vashon, for a company based in New York.
During the pandemic lock-down I have rekindled my interest in writing and have written some verse, I am currently working on a short story and, inspired by this contest, some flash fiction.
Susan McCabe abandoned corporate life in Chicago 25 years ago to move to Vashon and wallow in the arts — theatre, literature, radio and TV. Since landing here she’s established Shakespeare in the Park, written and performed a one-woman show and comedy sketches with Island variety show Church of Great Rain. She produced/stage managed Drama Dock’s Into The Woods and 33 Variations, as well as Kat Eggleston’s Cyclone Line. For five years she managed Voice of Vashon’s Radio & TV station, and continues to host her own weekly talk show, REALTalk. She’s currently working with Charlotte Tiencken as marketing director and stage manager for Vashon Repertory Theatre, volunteering with The Whole Vashon Project and Showing up for Racial Justice’s (SURJ) criminal justice team. Her foundation is in writing and journalism; she’s constantly in search of ‘the story.’ As principal of her free-lance business, Hannah, Ink, she continues writing. She’s literally traveled around the world, and is always ready for another trip. She loves yoga, pilates, hiking, swimming, her children, her dogs and her husband…not necessarily in that order. And, she hopes to get more of it all when COVID allows. Though her husband has probably had enough.
William Stott: I have as many trades as fingers … almost. Writing has never been a trade, but rather an abiding practice that’s part of being where I am. I have been living on Vashon for eight years. Currently, I’m an in-home caregiver & hospice worker & occasional laborer who hopes to attend nursing school.
Katy E. Ellis grew up under fir trees and high-voltage power lines in Renton, Washington and is the author of three chapbooks: Night Watch—winner of the 2017 Floating Bridge Press chapbook competition—Urban Animal Expeditions and Gravity. Her work appears in many literary journals in the US and Canada. She answers phones and files things for Public Health—Seattle & King County and lives on Vashon Island.
Karen Nelson usually an international (now zoom) touring dance artist began writing for Contact Quarterly, a 45 years-long artist-made publishing project— “a vehicle for moving ideas”— in 1980, by submitting to their newsletter. This was followed by articles, reports and interviews driven by her passionate involvement in dance improvisation, racial equity, disability rights and inclusion, performance making, and community engagement. Writing and publishing, in pre-internet times and within the stream of access we currently abide, along with dance, meditation, prayer, and being awkward for social justice inform her life experiments. https://explomov.weebly.com