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Julia Bouwsma

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


up, dug

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.   

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