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.
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.
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.
'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.