Two Poems

Julia Bouwsma


Dear ghosts, how can we stop the sunlight spinning the storyfrom our hands? The boards were pried off one by one, but the threat of firewill linger under anyone's tongue. Who doesn't carry their own erasuressilently in their spines, limbs horizoned to the past? My old dog shredsherself a nest in the old quilt, and I Franken-stitch it back up, stumblethe knot. If placed in a room together, you would not recognize the onesyou have become, nor would they recognize you. Too often the poem's fingersare clumsy with distance, grief the long thread I fail again to tie.Would it matter if I told you of my own ancestors? Bodies packedin cattle cars, bodies prodded into dividing lines, the gloved hands that chooseanother's fate. Goose-flesh skin surrendered to the clutch of shower tiles,the final dark release of their bodies coiled into air. All I know is this:even before I was born I breathed a loss not my own. Sucker Fish                        Lizzie MarksMy baby was a sucker fish right from the start: a fat slap and slurp, a thrashin the net of my belly (and how thin, how patched the net) that summerI stumbled so full of him each morning down to the shore, nausea a thundercloudabout to split as I heaved into the ocean, jacksmelts gathering to bite my toes,puked last night's potato scraps into the sea drooling, lifted my skirtsnot caring who could see and thought to myself, Lizzie you've got yourself a sucker fishinside of you—he'll eat you whole if it's the only way out. Thick foot hard in the gut,and I thought, He's a fighter sure as dawn. And how happy I was then, knowingmy baby would fight, even with a hook in his gape-hungry jaws. Yes, and he cameout like that too, flopping and red, latched straight on with his fleshy lips—till that day they drove us from our house, loaded us into the boats, the carriage,steered us into the bleach cold hall said, Women go left men go right. Then I knew the linewas about to snap. A pair of white hands plucked him off my breast. I sagged downtorn, unfurled, gill-slit. And my sweet William he just puckered his mouth.

Note

In 1912 the State of Maine forcibly evicted an interracial community of roughly forty-five people from Malaga Island, a small island off the coast of Phippsburg, Maine. Though Malaga had been their home for generations, nine residents (including the entire Marks family) were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble Minded in Pownal, Maine. The others struggled to find homes on other islands or on the mainland, where they were often unwelcome. The Malaga school was dismantled and rebuilt as a chapel on another island. Seventeen graves were exhumed from the Malaga cemetery, consolidated into five caskets, and reburied at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded. Just one year after the start of the eviction proceedings, the Malaga community was erased.

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Julia Bouwsma is the author of two poetry collections: Midden (Fordham University Press, 2018), selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the Poets Out Loud Prize, and Work by Bloodlight (Cider Press Review, 2017), which received the 2018 Maine Literary Award. She lives and works on an off-the-grid farm in the mountains of western Maine where she serves as Book Review Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and as Library Director for Webster Library in Kingfield, Maine.

"Julia Bouwsma’s chilling tale of the quietus of Malaga Island is shattering in its simplicity. The ease with which an ‘undesirable’ culture can be summarily disappeared is not a grim aberration relegated to a long-ago past—it’s a monster of the here-and-now. This is a chilling commentary, compassionate and character-driven, penned by a poet who is resolute and relentless as witness."
—Patricia Smith

"Vividly reimagined and gorgeously rendered, Julia Bouwsma’s Midden gives voice to the citizens of Malaga Island, off the coast of Maine, who early in the twentieth century were removed from their homes, their lives destroyed. Bouwsma writes, ‘I tried to write the island / to life.’ In this devastating and beautiful collection, she does just that, as she expands the field of documentary poetics. These poems bear witness to the tragedy of Malaga Island and demand that we remember our country’s violence to people and land. Julia Bouwsma’s voice is eloquent and urgent."
—Nicole Cooley

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