Stories from the Rainier Beach Library



Tupoila's Gallery

Remember this name: Tupoila!! Someday his art will be worth millions. 'Poila was an enfant terrible. He was the younger brother of three of our favorite children. In my own mind, I always thought of them as the Walt Disney children, because they all had the impossible, doe-eyed beauty of Disney's classic animated cartoon characters. Their family had immigrated from the South Pacific island of Tonga. Besides being beautiful and very smart, they were considerate children with lovely manners, which made them stand-outs among our usual young clientèle, who were mostly innocent of manners. But their little brother 'Poila was a holy terror. He was a force of nature. He had a mind so agile, so grasping, that it could not be contained, and this made him so bratty that his older siblings mostly wouldn't put up with him, and, as a consequence, he was rarely allowed to come to the library.

The first time I ever saw him was the week following the September 11 attacks. This angelic looking five-year-old asked me for a pencil and paper. I offered him some crayons and markers, or some colored paper, but he firmly insisted on plain white paper and plain pencil. Later, he came to show me his drawing. There were two tall and precarious towers, so meticulously drawn that they looked almost like architectural renderings. Tiny but recognizable human bodies were falling through the air, falling out of the windows on the towers. Falling. I had no idea what to say. I told him I thought it was a wonderful drawing. I asked him to tell me about it.

After that, he started coming to the library more often, to the consternation of everyone. It was hard to keep an eye on this kid, or to keep up with his questions. We remonstrated with his brother and sisters that they needed to watch over him, but we knew it was an impossible task. He always asked me for some white paper and a pencil, although eventually he came to prefer yellow marker. He never again returned to his previous architectural style but began drawing highly abstract, non-representational shapes. Sometimes he would cut around his drawings and present me with these oddly shaped, abstract and rather unlovely creations. I always taped them up on the wall behind the circulation desk. This seemed to fire him to new efforts on my behalf, and soon there would be five or six of these weird works on the wall.

One week, 'Poila was in the library but was so remarkably quiet and well-behaved that we hardly even realized he was there. It was a huge relief to not have his piping little voice insisting, "But I want to know..." every two minutes. This went on for several days, and we were beginning to hope that another of the Rainier Beach Library miracles had occurred and 'Poila had been wondrously endowed with his siblings' social skills. But then someone went back to post some notices on the community bulletin board and came back to the desk, saying, "You've got to see this!" We all hastened back to the bulletin board. Below it, and to one side, were twelve to fifteen of 'Poila's yellow-on-white abstract works, pasted very thoroughly to the wall.

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