In 1912, the residents of Malaga Island, off the coast of Phippsburg, were forced by the state to leave their homes and scattered to various parts of the mainland. The island residents had been a small, mixed-race fishing community, but by most accounts the people of nearby towns thought that the poor condition of the homes on the island would negatively impact tourism.

Julia Bouwsma’s poetry collection “Midden” (Fordham University Press, 2018) tells some of the stories and moments from the history of Malaga Island, and this week’s poem comes from that collection.

Bouwsma is the author of “Work by Bloodlight” (Cider Press Review, 2017) and the recipient of the 2018 Maine Literary Award, the 2016-17 Poets Out Loud Prize and the 2015 Cider Press Review Book Award. She serves as library director for Webster Library in Kingfield.

The Story of Fire

By Julia Bouwsma

Our brushfires hung thick and black. They kept

us warm, cooked our pots of clams,

and every day the villagers smelled our smoke

from their porches on the mainland.


A stick on fire curls and curls,

each fiber glows as it peels

from the stalk. So it is with a story,

driftwood flames green to blue:


How they came in boats,

how our shacks caught like a shot of light

when match met kerosene. How we left

in their boats; how we huddled

close; how mama bent

to the baby, her crooked

arm clamping him

silent. How a child curled

mouth to smoky knees and bit

them to red.


A stick on fire –


Now, one hundred years later,

the archeologists find

no ash, no scorched ground, no scraps

of charred wood, just loose nails

in the shell heap:


evidence that when the villagers said leave,


we willingly tore our houses down

with our hands.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is poet who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Julia Bouwsma. It appeared in the Maine Review and appears here by permission.

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