Hundred Islands National Park
1. The Lingayen Gulf cups these islands like marbles, their green swirl of vegetation like frosting on a cupcake, their pronounced tufts like hairy moles, polyps.
2. From the sky, Braille. From the water, a city-scape.
3. In the night, the count becomes 123 or 124 islands depending on the tide.
4. The tide takes an island, the tide gives an island back.
5. And there is my wife, whose belly is an island with a lone inhabitant.
6. He has raked his foot across the island like kicking off a night blanket, like I do in the heat of the Philippines.
7. Pangasinan province in the north is far from Manila, far from the military and the crowds, the jeepneys jeering down the streets.
1. We stop at Quezon Island, a beach and resort stop, for lunch. It is one of the larger islands, on the outermost chain, a forty-minute trawl.
2. We disembark, shoot photos of the rainbow pontoons docked along the port, the children playing in the water, following a pale fat man with an enormous white beard, calling after him Santa Claus, Santa Claus!
3. He responds not unplayfully, by splashing them with water and smiling.
4. My wife is worn down by the trip, and sits beneath the cover of the open-air restaurant, urging me to go explore.
5. Her mother will take care of her, she says. The wait staff is attentive, and she already has water and food, so I walk down to the beach.
6. To the north of the restaurant, near the shade the trees of the island provide, there is a floating dock a few feet out, and a line of timber leading to it.
7. I’ve removed my shoes and socks, cuffed my shorts high, and begin to ease my way to the planks.
8. Beneath me, the shallows are littered with the capiz shells that many of the locals make a living harvesting from these waters.
9. I’m surprised to find them, little glitter fins in the sun.
10. As far as the eye can see there is no open water but just islands, stepping stones. Pregnant bursts of green in the blue water.
1. I think about living on one of these islands. Isolation in a landscape the size of a house in New York state.
2. A boat docked at a reasonable inlet where the water rises to the surface of the ground.
3. Just us and a son.
4. He is already island people.
5. I look over at my wife, and find her eating and talking with her mother, both of their profiles toward me, looking out at the beach with the old, pale man walking away from the screaming kids, the Marco-Polo call of Santa Claus reaching me still.
1. In the night, later, when we are in bed and I feel my son kick again and again, the tide recedes and deposits another island in the archipelago.
2. I imagine its tales of travel are incredible, submersed in the new world of ocean.
3. I imagine all the other islands leaning in, drawn to the story,
4. listening carefully to its water birth.
DUSTIN PARSONS‘ essays have appeared in Seneca Review, Crab Orchard Review, New Delta Review, Fugue, and Indiana Review. Recent honors for his writing include the American Literary Review fiction prize, The Laurel Review fiction prize, and grants in creative non-fiction from NYFA and the Ohio State Arts Council. He is associate professor of English at The State University of New York at Fredonia. ☆ Judge Paul Lisicky selected “Take an Island, Give an Island Back,” as second runner-up of Proximity’s 2016 Personal Essay Prize.