Friends of ours are renting a beach house at Bodega Bay for the week, and a large group of us descended upon them for the day to socialize, eat good food, watch the beach from the big picture window, and generally enjoy each other’s company.
The group included three teen-age boys (sons of our friends Annette and Kathryn), plus one of their friends, and a girlfriend. They are a nice group of kids, comfortable to be with, and unintimidated by a houseful of 45-year-old-plus lesbians.
After a lip-smacking dinner of homemade macaroni and cheese topped off by peach cobbler and blackberry pie, we all walked down to the camping area by the beach to watch 16-year-old Will perform “fire poi.”
I had heard about his talent, but this was the first time I witnessed it. For those of you unfamiliar with it, fire poi are constructed from chain, with kevlar-blend wicks, that can be soaked in fuel (such as kerosene) and set on fire. The performer then holds one chain in each hand, with the flaming ends suspended, and twirls them through the air, creating patterns of spinning light in the dark.
Will started out using glow sticks. He has now become quite proficient with fire poi, completely self-taught. And, he jokingly states, he has only set himself on fire twice. We were in a large, open sandy area, so there was no danger of burning anything. There were twelve of us sitting on piles of stacked logs, waiting for him to begin.
It was a spectacular show. The fire whirled around Will’s head, circling in slow arcs, then more and more quickly, the flames sometimes large with tails, then smaller again. He spun them over his head, under his legs, at his sides, turning about. Butterflies, weaves, magical loops. Within a few seconds, we heard voices. Other people walking through the campground had seen the lights, and were drawn to the show. They approached, watched until the end of the first act, and hooted and cheered. A young boy asked Will eager questions about how he had started. The group stayed while Will did a second act of performances, and then asked if he would be back the next night to do more. Will promised to return.
I had never heard of this type of performance art before. Kathryn, Will’s mom, told me it was “koi” and that at the end of the chain were metal fish. I later discovered that this was a running joke, since the name is actually “poi,” which sounds close enough to “koi” that the family has adopted the alternate name.
When I see a 16 year old boy on the street, I often feel a little distant and removed. That period of my life seems so long ago. And I am untrusting. I’m not sure I know where that teen is coming from. In other words, I close myself off. So having this experience tonight was good. Here’s this 16 year old boy who not only is a nice kid, but he has this amazing, unexpected, wildly interesting talent. He does something I’ve never even heard of before, and he does it well. He performed graciously and gracefully, answering questions, putting on a show. It was a treat.
I have to keep myself open. I never know when I might run into fire fish in the night sky.