The Hungers of the World: Poems from a Residency

By John Morgan

Read three of John Morgan's poems from his poetry collection entitled "The Hungers of the World: Poems from a Residency," written after a stay at Denali.

The Denali Wolf

Near the East Fork of the Toklat
in the season that’s never dark
I lugged my gear back from the road
and while I slept through dusk
a noise like trash in the suburbs
being clattered away woke me up.

When I stuck my head out of the tent flap
the hoofed creatures were gone
but what I saw at eye-level,

like a fury sculpted in ice
brought me to my knees.
Once I’d wanted to paint a canvas

some huge fanatical blue
where the hungers of the world
could settle and be soothed.

Ten feet away, ears pricked,
nose flaring, the silver-gray
pursuer stared me in the face,

then sensing I wasn’t prey
whirled off along the river,
and I watched him shrink to a point

in imaginary time
fleet as the fastest athlete
I’d ever seen in my life.

Vision

Followed a fox toward Polychrome Pass.
Red smudged
with black along its lean rib-cage,
it rubs its muzzle on a former meal,
ignores the
impatient poet on its tail.

Then nearing the overlook, sun shearing
through low clouds
transmutes the view to glitter. Everything’s

golden, scintillant. I feel like a seedpod wafted
into space and
check my shaky hands on the steering wheel.

As the road crests over its top, boundaries
dissolve. Beside that
sheer intractable edge, I greet my radiant center,

discharge all my terms. How easy it seems
to channel between
worlds, my old self dying into a new,

with nothing firm to hold me here
but love. And that’s
what nature has it in its power to do.

Head

Nature, great creator, full
of invention, fabrication.

Day ten, went for a good-by look
to the bank of the East Fork, glacial

river, thick gray water. Suddenly
a head pokes up. A fish, an

otter? There’s no telling—
barely seen, it vanishes.

Dream? Illusion? Was it
just a mental bubble?

But then that same queer
head pops up again, followed

by the long-necked mottled
body of a duck. Duck in a panic,

flapping, paddling, launches
a mad-dash for shore, and seems

about to make it when
the silted channel swallows it again.

Artist's Statement

My poems from “The Hungers of the World” are based on a journal that I kept during my residency at Denali National Park in June, 2009. I had been to the park many times before, but this visit I felt from the start that something extraordinary was happening.

Being “in residence” means, in a sense, being at home, and having the wonderful Murie Cabin to live in made me feel a part of the wilderness whenever I stepped outside. Over the course of ten days the boundary between myself and the natural world grew very thin. These intimations culminated, toward the end of my stay, with the experience recounted in the poem “Vision.”

The philosopher William James has written that one of the basic qualities of a mystical experience is that it cannot be captured in words. He may be right, but I felt I had to try. It was unlike anything that had ever happened to me before.