Fisherpoet: Maggie Bursch

Maggie Bursch is one of the youngest female skippers in Bristol Bay. She runs her drift boat, the F/V Georgette Rose with a crew of young fishermen (mostly baddass ladies) and grew up set netting with her family at their fish camp in Pilot Point. Maggie and her sister Frances have been our best sister friends since we met as kids--our families' seasonal migration from Homer to our Western fish camps immediately connected us and kept us close with summertime boat letters and snail mail packages of our crafts made from old corks and artwork drawn with Sharpie on the back of cereal boxes, and stories about adventure and sea creatures and sisterhood. Maggie graduated from Colorado College this year and is keeping herself busy working on her boat in Homer this winter, coaching high school nordic skiing, and raising an Australian Shepard puppy named Oso. Maggie is a writer, and a poet and we wanted to share some of her poems with the rest of our salmon family. They're about you and me and all of us as fishermen. 




They Call Them Netmares


The demons took me

When I was twelve and they made my dreams



I would beg them, but the salmon

Kept swimming into my room

My sister, sleeping soundly

With a flounder under head.


Panicked in my sinking bed

I searched for steering wheel

And throttle in the sheets,


Swearing and groping as the water rose

Until I’d wake her, and she’d wake me

And the waves dropped

Back to clothing on the floor.


Later I learned to wake myself

With water,

Wading through the waves

To the kitchen

Washing my face at the sink


Until the currents subsided

And the piles of net turned

Back into plywood under my legs.


I still sleep

With sockeye in my sheets


And jump out of bed

Telling everyone to get up now

The net is out and munched

And the waves are big and the water is shallow

And I can’t run this fucking boat alone.


Then I wake

And everyone is sleeping, And I

Am standing wide eyed and naked

In the cabin in my sweat.


And I remember then, the eyes of the fisherman

As he spits black in his beer can

“You’re a tough girl,

you could take a couple demons.”

Then he looks at me knowingly

far too long.





It’s round in the way that it’s soft

Soft flannel movement, slow

Old memories like bones

Buried in boxes made into shelves.


One round wood room

Two old fishermen, still lovers

Round in the way that they’re soft

Soft flannel movement


Barely letting the water foul

In through the window

Soft bones, round glass

Found on open beaches were the skies howl


Soft moans, old whispers,

In the vowels of the tree songs

There are secrets

Their ears know,


Secrets only old bones know

Backs broken by wind

Hands hollowed by weight

Souls torn by weather


Ode to hold me

Ode to old fishermen laying on flannel holding

Each other, holding memories,

Holding stones.



Not all Fishermen Grow Old



Sorrow found me, rain poured cold

It’s hard to realize when you are young and loving

Not all fishermen grow old


Questions haunting, life took hold

Darkness held me, blankets covering

Sorrow found me, rain poured cold


On scratchy cell phone my mother told

Me the knowledge in the rumors buzzing

Not all fishermen grow old.


In the salmon, skinned and boned

In every wave and engine rusting

Sorrow found me, rain poured cold


The ocean bloating, ebbing bold

His face, far too young for loving

Not all fishermen grow old


Coast guard, bodies, stories fold

His eyes under the chopper hovering

Sorrow found me, rain poured cold

Not all fishermen grow old




Lashing Down Lines in a Midnight Storm

I cling to the heaving rail and pray to god

that I wont die this way, with skin so soft

and halite crystals growing in my hair.

Then barely hanging on, I swear

and look into the filthy brine below.

Why is it that they say it’s green and blue

when for days its boiled every shade of black

like it’s been drinking and drinking makes it mad


I tie the line that’s been banging at my head

And wish these tangled waves looked less like bed

I pull up the blanket and slip into the deep,

How is it I expect myself to sleep

With a drunk man smashing, smashing at my boat

And all these currents rising in my throat.



Art Character Fishing Lifestyle

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  • Beautiful pieces. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

    Joseph on
  • We saw Maggie last night and the night before in Astoria at the Fisher Poets 20th annual gathering. She got a well earned standing ovation. We are fans! Thank you for sharing her words here,

    Pat on
  • Lovely words.

    Litzi Botello on

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