above: Malaga Island, Photo Montage by Kate Philbrick, 2009
Midden (Fordham University Press, 2018) and Work by Bloodlight (Cider Press Review, 2017). Both books won, among other awards, the Maine Literary Award for poetry.
In Midden Bouwsma explores a horrific and under-discussed piece of Maine’s history through poems, how in 1912, the State of Maine forcibly evicted an interracial community of forty-seven people from their home on Malaga Island, a small island off the coast of Phippsburg, Maine that had been their home for generations. Nine residents were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble Minded in Pownal, Maine. Others struggled to relocate, as they were generally unwelcome on the mainland. Bouwsma did extensive research and made several trips to the island as she found herself compelled to write about that history.
“The Tray of Spades” is after a postcard titled The Tray [sic] of Spades (c.1907, Boston Post-Card Co.). The postcard was cropped from the original photograph and re-titled. The image depicts Annie Parker holding Pearl Tripp on her lap, as her older sister Abbie stands with her arms on the fence rails. “Dear ghosts, how can we stop the sunlight spinning the story” is also from Midden. “I Have No Answer but Stones” was first published in the magazine Cutthroat.
Betsy Sholl, MAJ Poetry Editor
The Tray of Spades
photography was invented with blood
At six, Abbie knows to stay behind the fence rails,
though she twists up on the corner post, tries
to grow her body bigger, keeps her eyes down:
things you do in front of any strange animal.
Every step of this yard is hers—the hills
her bare-arched feet press into graveled clay
make a map of her flesh, a geography
of peeled sunlight and cedar bark,
but the arm holding the black box
to white man’s eye casts a shadow
over the grass, the daisies, fades
them to flour sack,
as little Pearlie mouths the rail beside her,
peeks out through the stick fence,
and old Annie Parker creaks her chair—
a rhythm Abbie breathes in
like the sound of the sea as she weaves her toes
into the dust, digs in her heels.
She could follow her feet out of this gate, scrabbling
over the rocks and broken shells to the bay.
Instead she braids her palms
to the top of the fence post, elbows bent
to the rails, torn dress falling all around her
loose and streaked as eider wings.
The white man lifts his black box again, says
The flash bulb glints one hundred teeth in an open mouth.
The camera is a cracked door anyone can open—
last winter the frost-heaves swelled like a frown
beneath Annie’s house, corner posts shifting
until the door wouldn’t latch,
and she tied it shut with rope.
Now she pulls Pearlie onto her lap.
Sometimes the restless heat of a child’s limbs will keep
the cold out, will hold the ghosts at bay.
Her face is a haze of brush smoke, acrid snap
of pine pitch, lips collecting in creosote pools,
as she glares the camera down—
Annie knows no good ever comes of a mainlander
staring into your open door.
Afterward, the picture finds its way to Boston,
where it’s cropped and stamped.
The postcard: it sells and sells.
from our hands? The boards were pried off one by one, but the threat of fire
will linger under anyone’s tongue. Who doesn’t carry their own erasures
silently in their spines, limbs horizoned to the past? My old dog shreds
herself a nest in the old quilt, and I Franken-stitch it back up, stumble
the knot. If placed in a room together, you would not recognize the ones
you have become, nor would they recognize you. Too often the poem’s fingers
are clumsy with distance, grief the long thread I fail again to tie.
Would it matter if I told you of my own ancestors? Bodies packed
in cattle cars, bodies prodded into dividing lines, the gloved hands that choose
another’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.