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:
Emily Keiko Pruiksma
Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma
By Delinda McCann
My earliest memory is of the day I was planted. Before planting, I lived in a pod with my family. I felt safe and comfortable, then human hands pulled back the papery husk that held my family packed close together. I knew planting was a good thing, but it separated me from my siblings. I was alone for the first time ever—alone in forced isolation.
Being planted felt cold, but I grew warmer. One night, I felt warm enough to cast off my hard shell like a winter coat. Feeling soft and vulnerable, I cried all night for my family. Nobody comforted me.
I began to know day and night. Days were not as lonely as the long dark nights, but at night my longing for others of my kind drove me to send out thin white searching roots into the black soil. Thus, I found the scent of my sister. She reached out to me with her own roots. I stretched toward her.
I almost jumped out of the dirt when, from my other side, my bother’s root grabbed mine. He laughed and said, “Gotcha.”
Joyfully, I shot upward, putting out leaves in search for more of my kind. Finally, I was tall enough to see other green heads. From a vast distance, we waved to each other, still unable to embrace outside the small circle of our roots underground.
Remembering the intimacy of the garden inspired me to grow until my whole family crowded together, jostling one another. My brother shot up taller than the rest of us. “Hey shorty, how’s the weather down there?” He teased me.
Another day dawned. I was lifted from the soil and set down in a strange place far from my family. I could barely see my sister. Rains came, knocking my brother down. Had his stem broken? I pushed my roots toward him, searching for news and sharing my courage.
Summer came. We all grew tall with many branches. My brother was once again the biggest in the family. From across the path, a female flower snuggled up to me. She smelled of my kind, but she wasn’t my sister. I shyly opened a swollen bloom. She opened a shell pink bud. In a rush of old memory, I embraced her all night until the morning brought a bee in robes of black and gold to bless our union. Someday there would be more seeds. The cycle of family was complete.
By Emily Keiko Pruiksma
Years ago, at the farmers market, I held a bowl of steaming miso soup and remembered the love of my grandmother.
Paul, who made the miso soup – seeing me, seeing my grandmother in me – told me this story:
‘When I was a child, we lived in the camps. We were forced to leave our homes unexpectedly, carrying little, and almost everything was left behind. For years after that, I lived out of boxes. It took until age 50 to finally know that I could unpack. It took until age 50 to know I could come home.’
In November of 2020, nine months into lockdown, lives lost, the future uncertain, messages of unwelcome amplified from the highest towers – so many of us are quietly afraid we can not stay. Yet, where else can we go beyond the places we call home? Looking at the boxes half-packed, I remember the stories of our grandparents. Coming home is marked with the salt of release and the savor of resolve.
Holding a bowl of miso soup in my two hands, I sip deeply. The steam rises.
By Mary Shackelford
In these final days before the return of light, I am desperate still for the dark, for the comfort of the long night.
I yearn to soak in the sweet embrace of emptiness: that fallow field without seeds. I want to float in the dark mystery – not knowing what’s next – trusting there’s a place in the collective story for me. A place where the drift of my life fits in with all the beings not bounded by the human construct of time, but in what is known from geologic time, the creep of glaciers, the formation of the great inland sea, the long story of this place.
I know my yearning is for my life to flow into it, into the collective beingness of what is here: this ground, this forest.
In these headlong times, despair dances with the overwhelm that floods the land. No wonder I want the dark – a safe place where I too belong to something older and steady.
Ah, and there. There it is. My body knows. Every cell remembers that sweet dark silence. My body knows to trust that space – a woman’s wisdom that the moon will turn its face and the tide will carry me to shore and my body knows how to rest between the candle and the flame.
There are still a few days left before the light returns.
And so, in the dark of this short day I listen into the wind, cock my head to the song of the trees and the stream. Look into the dance of light upon water for the whisper of those who have gone before, those who are with me now and those who will follow.
The yearning is known in my body. Cells open; boundaries soften. I become one with where I am and disappear into the rotting duff of fir and cedar softly mounded in the cathedral of forest where light slants through to flicker and drift in salal and huckleberry. Where the pileated woodpecker darts from the snag, raven hoots raucous in the distance and the water ouzel bobs by the pooling stream.
I am already that which I am becoming. I am that I am, I and thou –
A holy union, inclusive and inseparable from this ground, this sky.
Feed the Birds
By Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma
Wilson noticed when the bird feeder went down. A mid-winter windstorm had blown it off its hook, and since it was just plastic, it cracked when it hit the patio below. The next morning Mrs. Gosling had gone out and put it without ceremony into the trash, but Wilson could feel she missed it more than she showed, even without knowing anyone was watching.
Before what his father kept calling a lockdown, he used to visit her every day. She often let him take a candy from her bowl and sometimes she even gave him a cookie. In return he’d sing a song from his kindergarten or church, back when he went to kindergarten and church. Now he went to grade school, but only at home, and wasn’t even allowed to visit Mrs. Gosling. His father said she could easily get sick. Wilson didn’t want her to get sick. But he also didn’t understand what was actually locked down. Anytime he looked for any new locks, he failed to find even one, even looking down, beneath the furniture.
He wanted to sing for Mrs. Gosling again. He even asked his father if he could sing outside her window, but he told him she wouldn’t be able to hear him, not without opening a window, and she shouldn’t be opening a window. So instead he just watched her, from his own, closed window, which faced the back of her apartment. That’s how he saw the bird feeder come down.
Why did everything have to go down? He wanted to put something up. So he waited one night for his father to go to sleep, then snuck into the night-lit kitchen. Standing on his toes he opened the drawer where his mother used to put the washed popsicle sticks. It still had a few. He fished them all out and took them back to his room.
Then he snuck the glue from the hutch in the living room, using the foot stool his mother didn’t take with her to reach the upper of the two drawers. With his door closed again and a blanket at the bottom edge to hide the light, he laid out the sticks in criss-crossing patterns to make the different parts he wanted: a square grid for the front, and a square grid for the back, and four narrower, rectangular pieces for the sides. He had to break some of the sticks to make them fit, but he did so under another of his blankets so his father wouldn’t hear him do it.
It took him three days, since he had to let it dry, but when at last it was finished he left it at Mrs. Gosling’s back door. And he watched from his window as she found her new feeder and he knew she was happy to put it up.
Epitaph for a Wanderer
By Molly Kovite
One of the headstones glimmers, freshly placed among its mossy neighbors. Paul Vickers, “Beloved Father and Husband” b. 1918, d.1997. I wonder if he yelled at his kids. I think my own dad is more of a “Dad” than a “Father.”
It’d be an open casket, even though dad would have been on his motorcycle. We’d be assembled on folding chairs sinking into the sodden grass. Or maybe in a church (though we’re not religious, we are traditional) with carpet and heating. I’d be in the front row with my brother and my mom.
My voice would be steady when I’d tell about how we’d listen to Big Girls Don’t Cry in the car, me screaming the “aye-aye- aye” part. How he’d snuggle me in bed before I went to sleep and ask me if I was happy.
It’d be towards the end that my voice would crack, maybe when I’d talk about how he’d proofread my papers and tell me not to use $5 words, and it’d hit me how much I’m going to have to do without him. College, my first mortgage, maybe a wedding.
Maybe we’d move to New Jersey, where my mom’s sister was. Maybe back to Seattle where we’d lived before. Moving always helped.
With each move, I’d resolve to be more likable. I’d be quiet, but funny. A shy girl would blush with gratitude when I’d offer her a makeover.
I’d belong. I’d be home.
Stuart Cook, “Heavenly Father, I am Home” b. 1930, d. 1980. Only 50 and gone over fifteen years, but someone is still getting used to it. His grave is covered in paper strips like fortune cookie fortunes, each held down by a rock. One says “I miss you every day.”
To a wanderer, every loss is the chance to start anew, each headstone a love story.
My dad never gets hit by a car and we don’t move. I switch schools. When I run out of local options, I go to boarding school. My dad presses a letter into my hand as we say goodbye. In it he calls me fearless.
I live in Seattle, Rome, New York, Dublin, Montana, Baltimore, Afghanistan, the Florida Panhandle, and finally Vashon. I do become more likable; I don’t become quiet. I enjoy those around me. I may even belong.
I marry. We have a baby. We bring her home.
A few days later we walk through the local cemetery.
Eilza Podesky b. 1977, d. 2020. Mom. Only 43. She’ll miss so much. One of the graves has a toy truck on it. Has giving myself to this place and these people cost me my wanderer’s outlook? The headstones are no longer love stories, but beacons of grief. How do people start over?
I try imagining like I used to: it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. I get a phone call. There’s been an accident.
But there are no details to be had; my mind will not conjure this darkness. No one is allowed to die. I hold my baby to me until I feel her chest rising and falling. I wrap us in my husband’s arms and ask him to take us home.
About the Authors
Emily Keiko Pruiksma has called Vashon home since 2002 when she moved to the island as an apprentice at Hogsback Farm. Over the years, she has served the community as the VIGA farmers market manager, worked at the Vashon library, hosted a popular stop on the Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, and founded the Free Range Folk Choir with her husband, Shane Jewell. Writing has been a quiet enjoyment for most of her life and she is honored to share the stories that come her way.
Mary Shackelford: In 1978, I landed on Vashon, sight unseen, straight from Virginia where I grew up. I could hardly believe the outpouring of community art that was happening! Jumping in, I joined the cadre of artists and friends who capitalized on VAA’s thriving energy to offer arts opportunities in what is now the Heritage Museum and then opened the Blue Heron Art Center.
I served on the board of Vashon Allied Arts as we created the visual arts, performing arts, arts education and literary arts programs. I created budgets, wrote grants and helped with the renovation and management of the building after we acquired it from the Odd Fellows. For many years, I edited VAA’s monthly Arts News. Then, as a staff member for VAA, I created and ran the performing and literary arts programs for a decade or so. These were halcyon years of creative collaboration, and my life was closely entwined with the arts on Vashon.
As a writer, I dove into opportunities for personal creative expression. In Laughing Dog Press, a small women’s collective, we made chapbooks and broadsheets on an old linotype press, publishing both on and off-Island writers. Through VAA’s literary arts program, I created performance readings that brought together musicians, visual artists and writers in community collaborations. More recently, I wrote and published a series of poetry books which I sewed and bound by hand: Through A Hollow Reed (2003), Space Between My Bones (2010) and Song In My Belly (2015). My work is included in a number of community anthologies.
Through all of this, I so appreciate the opportunities and support that offer creative ways to share my writing in the context of the rich community arts scene on Vashon. Over these many years, I have published articles, poems and stories farther afield, but it is here at home that it is most meaningful to participate.
Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma is an author, poet, translator, teacher, magician, musician, and lover of life. He was born in Seattle and has lived and worked in Tamil Nadu, India, and Oaxaca, Mexico. His translation of “The Kural,” the classical Tamil masterpiece on ethics, power, and love, is forthcoming from Beacon Press in the fall of 2021. Other titles include “The Safety of Edges: Poems,” “Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar,” and “Body and Earth: Notes from a Conversation” (with the artist C.F. John). He is currently completing a book about living in a yurt: “A Round Home Open to the Sky.” Thomas also presents original and theatrical work combining poetry, story, magic, and song in talks and presentations for the young and old alike. His solo show, “A Thousand Thanks: The Gift of Sadako and Her Cranes,” had its premiere in October 2018 at Vashon Center for the Arts. He serves as Language Consultant for Cozy Grammar and has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, 4Culture, Artist Trust, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the U.S. Fulbright Program, the American Literary Translators Association, Ohio State University, Oberlin Shansi, and Oberlin College.
Molly Kovite is an attorney who lives on Vashon, with her husband, Gavin, and daughter, Oona. Her permanent hobbies include running and reading fiction. Rotating hobbies have included bike touring, drumming, improv comedy, fiction writing, and swing dancing.