I Walk My Road at Dusk
The hour of metamorphoses, when people half hope, half fear
that a dog will become a wolf
—Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love
Now is the hour between: light dances
animal-eyed among the trees. Every bending
branch becomes a torso. Every mouth opens
into another running tooth, woods stripped
naked as a fleeing child—
what leaps the downed logs, what sudden antlers
clatter the brush heap?
I walk to the clear cut—discarded
limbs, silvered softwood. I trace
this trail of quartz crystals, vertebrae—
morsels dropped from a torn pocket and blazed
to bone dust. The road curves toward
and away. The road spines
the stone walls. My feet stumble inside
ruts my feet have worn.
All I ever wanted was land: something to press
my fingers into, a flat weight to pin my breath
into the sockets of my hips.
What body doesn’t hide secrets from itself?
I strain to see the path, stones sleeping in the road
like fallen dogs—
the sun drops its animal rush
into my throat, and I call out
to you, the erased, the in-between,
islanders, whose bodies still wear your moment of dusk
as a skin of rusted dirt you cannot
crawl out of, you
touched and turned, tossed by the phantoms
others saw as they gazed from the mainland, the white eye
of the sun falling into the dark mouth where river
meets ocean, a rupture of self
from self, our otherness a shadow that pitches us into
the blue hour from which there is no escape—
the dog rising from its bed of dust
to take the wolf’s heart in its mouth.
The Way Home
Day after day, we broke down the beavers’ dam
and day after day they built it back.
It was an endless summer of rain. Water clotted
the road. Water so high they swam
in front of my car as I climbed the long road
to our cabin on the hill.
I stood in the road after work, pants rolled
to my knees. The rain poured down.
Dress shoes in one hand, I dragged
the newest branches to the other side—
their chewed points stuck
like spears as I hurled them
into the bog.
The second summer we called Fish and Wildlife,
but Fish and Wildlife wouldn’t come.
We only trap beavers to kill, they said. Try to move them,
and they’ll just find their way home.
Eventually, my husband shot them, fished
their sodden bodies
from the pond
with the neighbor’s kayak.
First the male, skinned hide salted—
we ate the meat with eggs.
It tasted of poplar bark, bitter
Fall came: the female hung
in our shed, froze before there was time
to skin her out.
I drove the long road home,
no crunch of branches under my car.
All winter, I tried to write the island
to life, labored
these voices, the people torn
from their land—
all winter, the beaver hung in my shed,
her body frozen and still,
upside down in the dark.
Dear ghosts, I pick the list
for names like herring bones from the fish’s
oiled cavity. I run them between my teeth, stroke
the scarred light of photographs—your granulated
faces, mimeographed eyes always left
in the dark. I take up scissors, razor blades, the rusted
garden loppers, pinking shears. I scissor you
to islands, rearrange until my fingerprints peel
your faces gray. I bind you to my walls. I let you
hang. You watch me sleep, your silence a blood-burst
in my mouth. I dream of ink, wake as a stain
against my sheets. Finally I shred the maps, scatter
the portraits, watch you faceless flutter down—
a hundred-year-old snow dusts the ground.
This is our only blessing: bury you in the yard, sing
as I fingernail our forgetting into the bone clay.
-from Midden, Fordham University Press (2018)
JULIA BOUWSMA lives off-the-grid in the mountains of western Maine, where she is a poet, farmer, freelance editor, critic, and small-town librarian. She is the author of two poetry collections: Midden (Fordham University Press, 2018) and Work by Bloodlight (Cider Press Review, 2017). She is the recipient of the 2018 Maine Literary Award; the 2016-17 Poets Out Loud Prize, selected by Afaa Michael Weaver; and the 2015 Cider Press Review Book Award, selected by Linda Pastan. Her poems and book reviews can be found in Grist, Poetry Northwest, RHINO, River Styx, and other journals. A former Managing Editor for Alice James Books, Bouwsma currently serves as Book Review Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and as Library Director for Webster Library in Kingfield, Maine.