Gwendolyn Morgan’s poetry collection, Flight Feathers, juxtaposes man’s destructive actions against the wonders of nature, while intertwining stories of dying and its attendant grief.
Morgan was Washington State’s Clark County Poet Laureate from 2018-2020. She’s also an artist and has worked in interfaith spiritual care in medical settings, tending to the sacred art of dying.
Readers are first drawn in by her sharp, loving eye for the paradise we have been given where dawn “tastes like wild roses.” Whether describing “black-tailed deer with wild bird seed on their noses” or the gorgeous strangeness of “The Great Egret” with its “deep neck bow that adds to its elegance. As if the yellow bill and long neck would bring us unexpected treasures.”
But everywhere, the human world intrudes. Climate change, immigration issues, “bombs detonating,” environmental destruction (“fields turning into housing complexes/ marshes drained), COVID—all encroach on the astonishments of nature: “Underneath feathered clouds/ She waits outside/ the Immigration Detention Center// […]Above rare “blue” (Snow Geese)/ mostly dark bodies and wings/ issue high-pitched laments.”
Morgan also includes poignant lyrical essays about her work with COVID patients, as well as poems about dying. “She Said The Moon Is In Cancer, Her Home Sign,” offers a powerful elegy that combines the fine grain of everyday life and the inexorable progress of disease, ending: “she said cancer cells reproduced like morning glory// she arranged flowers every morning[…]// they told her how to arrange the flowers/ the cells arranged themselves erratically.”
Sometimes, Morgan’s sympathy seems to shade into the maudlin and sentimental, as in “she wishes the children in the shelter, in the cages/ could taste the sweet licorice root.” By pushing her rhetoric a little too hard, she risks sounding like she’s preaching.
However, readers will easily forgive the dry patches to discover such delights as this vivid description of a skunk: “white stripes diverging at the nape/ run down the back[…]/ like syllables from the lost worlds, lost light.”