Poet Julia Bouwsma lives off the grid in the mountains of western Maine. She’s a two-time winner of the Maine Writers and Publishers Book Award for Poetry. Bouwsma says of this poem: “In 1912, the State of Maine forcibly evicted an interracial community of forty-seven people from their home on Malaga Island. The state’s orders included committing the entire Marks family to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. When Lizzie Marks arrived at the institution, she and her young son William Marks, were separated. Both died there, and to the best of my knowledge they never saw one another again after arrival. In my book, Midden, this poem is followed by a poem set in William’s voice — a sort of call and response. This is also a story that echoes across time, as it is unfortunately reminiscent of the current parent/child separations taking place at our southern border.”
My baby was a sucker fish right from the start: a fat slap and slurp, a thrash
in the net of my belly (and how thin, how patched the net) that summer
I stumbled so full of him each morning down to the shore, nausea a thundercloud
about to split as I heaved into the ocean, jack smelts gathering to bite my toes,
puked last night’s potato scraps into the sea drooling, lifted my skirts
not caring who could see and thought to myself, Lizzie you’ve got yourself a suckerfish
inside 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, knowing
my baby would fight, even with a hook in his gape-hungry jaws. Yes, and he came
out 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 line
was about to snap. A pair of white hands plucked him off my breast. I sagged down
torn, unfurled, gill-slit. And my sweet William he just puckered his mouth.
Maine Voices in Verse is edited by Maine poet and educator Dennis Camire. Dennis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.