7 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! They were released twice a week over a four-week span. Volume 8 is the final volume. This week features stories and poems by:
By Camille Reeves
Straw bales had been placed in a half-circle under an apple tree in the orchard outside the small, darkened house. The leafless branches still bore fruit, red against the blue sky and illuminated by lovelights strung from limb to limb. The daylight was almost imperceptibly waning, but the light of Autumn always feels like evening, no matter what time of day it is.
People gathered, but not more than could be counted on hands and toes. No words were spoken, except the whispered, even fragile, condolences offered by the arriving guests. Only a few children sat with their parents, hushed by the adults’ despondency, and unaware of the poignancy their presence carried. In the center, at the base of the tree, was a lump under a quilt.
When all had been seated, or comfortably settled where they were standing, the host spoke.
“Thank you all so much for coming. You all mean so much to us that we wanted to share with you this special time of remembrance.” He paused. We could feel the heaviness of his heart. His wife bore the same weight, yet hers was a silent grief.
“This is a very significant time,” he continued. “Full of beauty despite the pain we feel because of our loss.” His shoulders slouched wearily in the baggy, flannel shirt he wore, having felt too tired for formality. His eyes fell to the fire contained by a chiminea, releasing smoke heavenward.
It would have perhaps been harder to find beauty in an abrupt, traumatic loss, but death had not come as a surprise, and a slow tragedy allows the opportunity to reflect. Was it truly better to have loved and lost? After some time had elapsed, he would say ‘yes’ without a doubt. But for now, we wondered if he believed his own words when he spoke of beauty.
He was grateful for even the short time they had had.
He read a poem he had written.
After a short time of silence, a piper wheezed his bagpipes to life, as if clearing his throat, and brought forth a full, rich drone that reverberated down into the meadowed valley. The melody sang of grief and recalling, and became not about the couple’s loss, but about everything we had ever loved and lost. And the feeling of being brought to our knees in pain and gratitude for how deeply we can love, and still have to let go. Always having to let go.
Many of those present and witnessing felt tears forced to their eyes by their own wounded heart that had been touched. And it was in this moment that gratitude, grief, a plea for forgiveness and granted redemption were all found, and found to be the same thing.
The tree’s white lights seemed to brighten, but only because of their contrast against the approaching evening. The last steady tone ceased when the piper stopped pumping, but the echo continued to carry. We all sat breathless and listened.
By Mary Shackelford
I enter the darkness of this new moon. Blood Moon. Hunters Moon. In my garden the tumult of summer lies now in a profusion of disarray – a shambles to most eyes.
Poles collapse under the grip of spiraling bean vines. Spent seeds ooze like tears from aging yellow eyes of drooping sunflowers. Husks of corn and ends of cob lie castaway amid torn and broken stalks. The lone cabbage gapes, split wide to an exposed heart.
In this Hunters Moon, I do not track wild animals for my table. Amidst the chaos of overabundance and a dying garden, I seek the true seed to save, the one that is whole, strong and necessary, particular to this time.
For there, amid spent vegetation, I find the kernels which I will put aside. Treasure
kept safe through the darkness in a room that is dry and fallow – uncluttered with dreams and expectations.
In my overgrown garden, in the new moon, in the growing dark of autumn, I select a few strong seeds and let the rest go.
on a rock in a sound
By William Stot
on a rock in a sound
My redoubt is a small brick bungalo with a weathered deck, set on a hill near the south end of Vashon Island. I sit on the deck like lichen and look due east. In a single view, I take in the outer cove of Quartermaster Harbor, Dockton village and south Maury Island, the Cascade Range, and Mt. Rainier. It can be breathtaking. The panorama changes often, often dramatically; weather shifts with an almost musical movement. It’s a landscape of overtures. I’ll awaken to a misty monochrome Chinese ink drawing; then the wind snaps, the air fairly sparkles, and the afternoon colors are as angular and as vivid as a Matisse cutout. On moonless nights I behold starry skies spinning Van Gogh-wise.
The eminence here is a thing so massive it seems to float, so fixed it’s hard to bring into focus; why else would it have so many names? Tahoma. Tacobeh. Pooskaus. Tacoma. Ti’Swaq’. Perhaps because it seems so ultra-earthly & surreal, I sometimes see in it my grief, and read all manner of dark message off its shadowy slopes. Other times, I’m seduced by its grandeur and feel gratitude for the beauty I spy in its snowy, glowing faces. It depends, literally. One day distant Rainier dangles like a worn locket from the fraying thread of my mood; the next, it glides off into myth like the Ancient Mariner’s snow-white albatross. I’m not being facetious when I say it can be exhausting to look at that mountain. Once in a quiet while, though, as if by accident, such ornaments drop away. I know one thing that minds me here is something Rainier doesn’t say.
TikTok, the Subaru Died
By A. Norling
Where does this aversion to technology come from?
From looking at computer screens the last time I was in the same room with the two people I’ve ever known to die.
From being videotaped by the concealed camera of a thirty-three-year-old during sex when I was nineteen.
From the internet luring my Social Security number out of me when I was a child and didn’t know better.
My grandmother. I was playing a free online game where I nurtured five digital pets.
My friend. He sat silently in my office for an hour, waiting for a ride that never showed up.
Who was thirty-three?
Just Ben. He took me mini golfing. I still have our scorecard.
Don’t ask about the SSN.
Whatever it was, I can’t avert technology forever.
It’s not the way of this world.
I visited F and A in their driveway yesterday and they told me about TikTok as they leaned against the Subaru that will never die.
TikTok is the way of the world for Gen Z, they said. Also a Chinese surveillance tool.
F and I once laid on our backs in the summer grass of an Idaho rest stop for an hour, waiting for the Subaru to cool down enough for it to be safe to drive again. We spread our bodies out like starfish under the shade of the three trees there. We ate cherries and Cheez-Its and talked about what sort of lesbian we wanted to be when we grew up. We had created our own air-conditioning for that drive by dipping towels into a lake, then fastening them over our rolled down windows.
A’s manager wants her to get a TikTok.
The Subaru died.
In October, they said. It was something big that happened, that I missed.
An hour’s rest in the shade was all she needed, then the hood stopped steaming and we were back on the road.
With Guiding Hands
By Laura Paul
I knew a man who once, upon hearing the stories of others sick with the same affliction as his wife, told me he didn’t want to hear it, that it hit “too close to home.”
“But here’s how they coped,” I wanted to explain. “Here’s how they survived.” Here’s the advice my own family members wanted to share openly and as widely as possible in the hopes that it would deter the further suffering of others.
Facing the reality of the situation, was in fact, something he did infrequently and as little as possible.
Facing the reality of the situation, was in fact, what was urgently needed.
Not facing the pain of others doesn’t make us immune to pain. Not bearing witness and giving testimony to horror doesn’t render it unreal.
When I sit still enough to listen. When I expand my peripheral vision. When I allow my heart to break, it builds a power that weakness can’t afford.
I am not decimated by the sorrows and miseries that surround us, but strengthened by them. I am strengthened knowing that vulnerability is a common language, just as endurance is.
There is proof and evidence of people getting through the incomprehensible and unimaginable if only we allow ourselves to receive it. There is another side, if we are open to not letting this one be the last. There are stories out there waiting for us, with guiding hands, reminding us that we aren’t at all facing this alone.
By Tara Reynoso
Damp and noble Koilidhy ferns sprout and rise from the damp earth in this remote eastern area of the prefecture as if nothing else can bear to take root there. The fact is, that’s the botanical reality. Every twilit afternoon, returning (alone!) to my home among the ferns, these are my sole companions, for miles around, dripping tufts bobbing in the breeze as if to wave at me as I cruise by.
The Republic designates this section of the countryside as a “nothingness”. I think that’s horrifyingly unfair, perhaps the “somethingness” would be more precise. Not the forests of the north, but take those forests and pluck away the trees, keep the lush undergrowth, that should paint a good-enough picture. Thunder’s fat voice booms for hours on end and doesn’t relent this time of year, the lavender skies give way to ashy clouds punctuated by lightning, days sink into weeks, weeks sink into months. And hail, lots of it.
This afternoon was no different, I heard tall tales of mythically huge hail falling earlier at work, and managed to luck out in that it had stopped when quitting time came and my cruise home began. No way I can afford to replace my windshield again. Upon opening the bedroom door, I marvelled at my strangely shimmering bed, my exhausted self took time to realize that the hail had at last managed to decimate the skylight above my bed and dispersed the remains smash onto the only place I wanted to be, at that moment. Koilidhy ferns rustle, they’re laughing at me.
Winter’s funny tricks of time, compounded with my taxing shifts have transformed my room, hell, my whole house into a jumble of knick-knacks, clothes strewn about, 28 years of treasures that have gradually come out of hiding. Boxless items and itemless boxes greet me as I fetch the broom to sweep the glass. I have been meaning to put it all away. I realize there’s no point in putting down the broom after the glass has been swept up if I can just as easily do the same to the rest of the house. If I had to pick up my pillowy mounds of clothes on the floor to shake shards out of those too, hanging them in their place isn’t an excessive stretch either. As I pick up my old hardback books in Koilidhy fern-green, my mood picks up too.
Father tells me that tidying, getting up your bum and doing something, anything, around the home is key to staving off the blues. I’ve never been great at being resilient in the face of this area’s winters, but as I make my way to the mossy end of the house to get the ladder (tickled by Koilidhy ferns when I got to it) to mount the roof and patch the hole for the night, I start to believe him. If I can hope for an early spring in a cleaner home, that’s at least a start.
By Heather Timken
Where we, in the summer evenings, when it was hard to sleep for the light and warm air and the long chapters of stories had wound down, sometimes stalling the impending night, she would ask me to tell the story of the place. It always started with the open waters, clear and blue, and the patch of electric green growing in rows of potatoes, kale, corn, and summer ripe berries, black and purple. Often there were tall trees, the branches flat so that you could sandwich them in your hand, on that verdant patch beside the calm waters was a brown house, made of sturdy wood planks with a chimney and a shiny metal roof that made the sound of rain a symphony drum through the long winter nights. Near a slight hill, a bright tree that let its skirts down to the earth, next to a door near to the roses, blooming peach and pink in the summer, mother robin nested in the bush there, strapped together from a long-ago accident on the painting ladder. Where in the house was a girl with hair blond as the sun and eyes the blue of the Stellars jay. Where she was often seen barefoot with a yellow chicken in hand and several black ducks trailing, the watchful eyes of a calico cat lying in a patch of light, never further away from the house than the reach of a bald eagle’s talons. All of that was the truth, recited faithfully. Sometimes she languished in the antics of the girl with eyes the color of Stellars jays and sometimes she would say, “no, no, no don’t tell that story” it brought no solace to the night, only acrimony. I still live in the wooden house where we listen to rain on the tin roof nights, remembering the wet taste of sun gold poppers from the vine and the trail of toy horses from the kitchen through to the porch light, where the doll family set out on great adventures. I can look in the basement for the detritus of years lived close to the marrow of life, finished paintings, and still a freezer full of dead songbirds waiting for the taxidermist that never came. I talk with the roses now about their need for compost, my coat faintly smelling of leather and horse from the barn, build fires in the cold winter nights, walk the paths with the dog past the idle deer stand, cut the branches of the forest from a now-dead neighbor, frequently eying the horizon for a glimpse of an arcing black dorsal fin. I sit with the geese in the field unafraid. The conversation here is no longer that of girl lighting up the sky, but a woman and man quietly living the long chapters of an unfinished story, the dark oil painting above the stove a midwestern inheritance, the apple orchard offering its fruit still, like to Eve that first day we set foot here, taste this, it beckons. Where swallows return each spring to dog-eared books, empty journal pages, Sumi ink wells spread across the open table surfaces among seed catalogs and candlesticks. The bitter madrona berries, scarlet and ripe, down by the water’s edge, where the crisp smell of salt and creosote accompany barnacles opening their mouths to bull kelp tangled in the high tide line. Where we walk hand-in-hand, laughing often, past the so-called junk tree we lovingly named Mother Ruby, where owls land on the metal roof at night, evoking the dreams of the two in the brown house, by the green field and the blue water…
About the Authors
Camille Reeves is an Island writer, musician, performance artist and independent scholar. Many in the Vashon community are familiar with her work as a singer-songwriter, performing with her band The Diggers from 2009 to 2012, her duo Cherrywood Station (with Island artist Gus Reeves) from 2014 to 2018 and, more recently, with her R&B/Soul project, The Confessions. Others know her as a teacher and mentor of young people through the music lessons she offers at her home studio.
Last year, Camille was elected to the Board of The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, and currently serves as secretary.
She lives with her five-year-old daughter in a historic building on the Westside, where they spend their time meditating, making art and working on their budding hobby farm.
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.
Laura Paul is a writer whose work has previously been published by The Brooklyn Rail, Dream Pop Journal, Entropy Magazine, and Luna Luna Magazine, among many others. She earned her B.A. from the University of Washington, where she was named a Mary Gates Scholar in the Arts and Humanities, and her Master’s degree from UCLA. To find out more visit laurapaulwriter.com