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:
Seán Malone and John Sweetman
Into the Deep
By Julia Harriet
I wrangled my purple coat over my warmest pajamas. The netherworlds beneath an old grove of gnarled fir were calling out beyond the cut grass of our tamed yard. Affectionately known as the “Deep Dark Woods,” this nocturnal vaudeville housed a ravenous Barred Owl that my dad had been coveting for months.
Pouring himself a generous glass of scotch, my dad swept the tumbler into his fingers and took my small, sweaty hand firmly into his other. I held fast to his thick palm knowing that he was my only beacon in that sea of darkness. Haunting shadows and menacing sounds sparked my imagination’s playground as we ventured further from our well lit home and deeper into the woods.
There were rules of engagement for explorers of the night. Silence was the mandate with an occasional inquisitive whisper reluctantly accepted. Beneath the giant bows we crept like synchronized swimmers of the ground. “Don’t move kid.” I held my breath until I was sure to be turning the color of my winter jacket. I strained to see but layers of misty darkness obscured the clarity of form. I buried my curly head into my dad’s thick side and felt prickly petrified as only a 5-year-old can.
Like a knife cutting through a wizard’s cloak, the magnificent creature pierced the ambiguity nearly knocking us flat to the forest floor. A desperate squeal erupted as the bird lifted its prey back to the branches above. Shock and intrigue lay dense in my chest, as though I had just witnessed a mafia hit in a dark alleyway. My dad squeezed my hand twice which meant it was time to return. As we tiptoed between tangles of underbrush, the glow of civilization returned, as did color to my face. I tugged for him to come down to meet my frozen cheek. “When can we do it again daddy? I want to go back into the deep.”
By Janie Starr
One morning you might wake up to find the great blue heron
perched in the hemlock tree.
One morning you might beat your drum to the rhythm of your own heart.
One morning you might stir to the sound of snoring and let it
rattle you back to sleep.
One morning you might wake up to the smell of coffee that your
partner sets down beside the bed.
One morning it might occur to you that all is not lost.
One morning you might discover you’ve kicked the sheets off the bed.
One morning you might wake in the middle of a dream and reach back into the darkness seeking its elusive meaning.
One morning you might wake up to the pinkest sunrise you’ve ever seen.
Your mouth might spill open in wonder.
You might look at the clock and moan to realize it’s only 5:15.
One morning you might wake up to the tide rushing in.
One morning you might wake up and leap out of bed just because you can.
One moment you might let your hair go grey.
And then dye it purple once again.
One moment it might occur to you that you are loved.
One moment you might discover you’re no longer afraid.
One moment it might occur to you to let go of your rage.
Another moment you might grab it back and shout in pain.
The choice is yours though it rarely feels that way.
One morning you might wake up dreaming of hugs.
One moment it might occur to you that quarantine is the new normal.
One moment you might decide to give credit where credit is due.
One moment you might realize that sorrow and sickness have gone.
One day you might seek out new horizons.
That night you might be relieved to still be tucked in safe at home in bed.
One moment it might occur to you that your travel days are over.
One moment it might occur to you that enough is enough and
that you have more than plenty.
One morning you might wake up to discover that
joy is available whenever you’re ready.
One day you might determine that you’re too tired for all this shit.
One day you might sit down and write a love letter.
Another day you might rip it to shreds.
One night you might fall asleep
while reading your murder mystery and
dream of doves and honeysuckle vines.
One day you might determine that you are no longer needed.
Maybe you never were, but …
You were loved all the same.
One morning you might wake up and sing halleluiah
because the wicked witch is dead.
One morning you might discover that hope is a feather, as it floats into
your hand, black and shiny.
One day you might simply sit at the ocean’s edge,
dangle your toes in the water, and
sigh with deep appreciation that you were here.
By Anna Shomsky
Our younger daughter Opal always spots the moon in the sky. We stop in the middle of the grocery store parking lot and she points. “It’s a half moon!” It’s one of the small joys that fills the empty time.
We go to the grocery store once a week. Our older daughter Iduna pushes the cart, and Opal holds my hand. Every time I pull something from the shelf, she demands I give it to her so she can place it in the cart. I always hope we’ll run into someone we know, but we hardly ever do.
We bought some candy to trick-or-treat room to room in our house. Iduna jumped up and down, asking, “Aren’t you so excited?”
We divided up the candy and took turns standing in our bedroom doors, handing it out. We only have three rooms, so we were done in a few minutes.
There was a full moon on Halloween. We watched it out the window.
We make appointments to pick up library books. We talk about how excited we are for Fancy Nancy Sees the Future to come in. I imagine Fancy Nancy did not envision this future. There are so many books that teach kids how to get along with each other. I have yet to find any that help kids learn to get along alone.
Every Wednesday is wacky Wednesday in Iduna’s online class. They wear bananas on their heads or bring their pets. She looks forward to Wednesdays.
The preschool where I worked and where Opal attended has closed. Opal misses going up to the church above the school to do the dishes. She misses her friends. She sees a small toy that came home in my pocket one day and says we should bring it back. I tell her for now, the toy is happier being at our house where it can be played with. It would be lonely in the empty school.
Still, she’d like to stop at the preschool and go on the swing. She says she hasn’t gone on a swing since school. I look up swings online, but they’re too expensive.
Now, we go to the beach. I’ve learned to skip rocks. Iduna is working on it. She can skip a shell.
We hope to see the orcas- animals that are bold and free in a world intent on their destruction.
I think about the orcas while I’m on hold with Unemployment, trying to find out why they want me to pay back everything they’ve paid me, plus interest.
An orca was born on Opal’s birthday.
My dog refuses to be left home alone. Since March, he’s only been alone a few times. If he sees us putting on jackets, he sits by the door, waiting for his leash. Now he rides in the front of the car, and I ride in the back.
We stop at the grocery store. In the parking lot, Opal finds the moon.
You Are Who I Lost
By Martha Enson
You are who I lost
like paper ash caught up in a breeze
you are who I lost
She comes to visit
unexpected across the water
she brings a gift song
“for our mothers” she says
“for their frail bodies, their tiny bodies”
You are who is lost
Have you ever noticed how a bird never collides
with the tree?
How, synchronistically, it knows when
to reach out with its tiny claws,
to fold its soft wings?
Your wrists like a wren
You are who I lost
Your calling out in the night for your mother
You, traveling alone, and lost
Have you ever noticed that when the huge blue ocean
of grief breaks,
wave upon wave
scouring through the body from crown to crux
Have you ever noticed the searing sweetness of the pain?
You are who I lost
and you will never be found
Not by me
not in this life
She brings me a gift song
because she is my friend
because the spasm of pain must come to break open
the fearful crate of my heart
and she will not want me to miss
one drop of this
You are who I lost
and now I am the one
fragile as paper ash
gathered into the samovar of my body
making sweet cups of tea
making room for the voluptuous sadness
5 crows in black silhouette
across the deep blue sky of dusk
You are who I lost.
Naked! Wild! And in Trouble Again
By Seán Malone and John Sweetman
The root of the bracken fern is black and hard, ideal for a spear in our war in the field across Cove Road. I’m not sure if it was our property or not, as our spring was further up the hill. Every year after winter, my job was to clean out the dead rats, even though the overflow pipe was screened to keep them out of the well.
Brother Mike and I built a little wiki-up, pulling up the ferns in the middle and bringing the tops of the taller ones to the center, then weaving them into a topknot. Pals, Kit and Dale had their fort higher up the hill, where we couldn’t see them pulling up the tall ferns to make spears and using the short ones for knives. We ran naked because nobody could see us and no girls were allowed.
“Mike, you guard the door while I sneak around and try to get them from behind,” I ordered, just because I was bigger and Mike’s elder brother. I got behind them alright: when Dale spotted me. He chased me clear down the hill to the creek, where I soaked my US Keds in the cold water, and hid from Dale in the thick brush. It wasn’t practical to play naked and in bare feet.
About that time, I smelled smoke: while Dale was chasing me, Kit sneaked up on Mike with a flaming stick in his hand. Which he threw into our fort to smoke Mike out. Mike choked on the smoke and ran from the fort, yelling “bloody murder.” Kit had started a fire and we weren’t about to help put it out.
Mike and I grabbed our clothes and ran for the house, cutting through Bradley’s, so Mom couldn’t see us, pried open the basement window and dived through it. We hid in my room and started playing with our Erector set. We heard Mom upstairs yelling at someone to get off the line so she could call the fire department and whoever it was, was arguing with her. There were 15 families on our party line and our phone number was ‘red 56’.
Chuck Kimmel was in the Navy in WWII and wouldn’t eat rice because of the maggots he found in his bowl aboard ship. Chuck was fire chief and both McCormick brothers, Earl and George were volunteers. The fire siren was an old air raid siren, mounted above the front door of the Hardware Store uptown. When the siren wailed, the barber Don Kellogg dropped his white apron on the sidewalk, running for the fire station.
The volunteers got the fire out and caught Kit, hiding naked in the deep brush along the creek. Of course, Kit blamed Mike and me while Dale got off “scot free.” We were grounded for a month.
Glenn McCormick, Earl’s eldest son, missed his bus from town yesterday. I gave Glenn a ride to the Yacht Club where he lives on his boat.
About the Authors
Julia Harriet loves a good story. As a mother of two incredible children, she is gifted whimsical tales daily for which she is eternally grateful. Julia works in construction, helping people build their dreams and reinvent their spaces. She grew up on Vashon Island, happily riding her bike around Dockton, stumbling into friendly conversations with a neighbor.
Janie Starr has masters degrees in public health and psychology. In addition to her memoir, Bone Marrow Boogie ~ the Dance of a Lifetime, she has written extensively about racial and social justice, including her essay, “What’s a White Girl to Do”, published in the anthology What Does it Mean to be White in America?
She has been an advocate & collaborator for racial, social & environmental justice for most of her life, and currently organizes with Vashon-Maury SURJ ~ Showing Up for Racial Justice, Indivisible Vashon’s Immigrant/Refugee Rights Group, and VIGA’s Food Access Partnership, in addition to her involvement with the VISD’s Racial Equity team.
Anna Shomskey: My writing has appeared in Women on Writing and on the Post-Culture Podcast. I wrote and produced the radio show Whispers of Vashon for 101.9 KVSH. My short stories have been published in the anthologies Island Stories and Chicken Scratchings. I have a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and have taught ESL for fifteen years.
Martha Enson is Artistic Director of the event production company EnJoy Productions, the off-site Events Director with Teatro Zinzanni, and a Founding Artistic Director of UMO Ensemble. In addition to conceiving of and directing over 30 original productions a year, Martha is an actress, clown, acrobat, aerialist and puppeteer. She has performed on rollerskates, doing bungee dancing from 50 feet in the air, and as an acrobat on the outer rim of the Seattle Space Needle. She is a certified Bikram Yoga Instructor, an avid gardener and runner, and lives on Vashon Island, WA with her husband Kevin and daughter Ruby.