The Hungers of the World: Poems From a Residency
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. 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.
Most of the poems in “The Hungers of the World” are based on a journal that I kept during my 10-day stay. Two come out of earlier visits to the park. The forms used include free verse, accentual verse, and, in one case, a sonnet. I hope they begin to capture the range and suggest the impact my experiences had on me.
“The Denali Wolf” first appeared in the magazine Ice-Floe and “The Unnamed Lake” was originally published in The Northern Journal.
I wish to thank Park Superintendent Paul Anderson, Ingrid Nixon, Chief of Interpretation, and Annie Duffy, Arts Coordinator for Alaska Geographic for making my residency possible. I am very grateful to Tom Walker for putting forward the idea of having writers spend time at the Murie Cabin. Also great thanks to my wife Nancy for suggesting the idea to Tom during a field journaling class we took with him in 2008.
— John Morgan, 2009
Fourteen caribou at Sable Pass,
While focusing ‘binocs,’ my
Perched in flinty stillness on
These green and ochre hills
While foxes den a hollow
Browsing the cabin’s logbook,
The Unamed Lake
(from a field journal)
Slogged over tipsy muskeg, past a “moose
preens and dives. Across the sky-flecked water, spruce,
erased, in homage to two men whose ashes
Scanned across the East Fork
a golden eagle, eyes fierce and
more eagles circle in. Their
through a 60 power scope—
The Denali Wolf
Near the East Fork of the Toklat
and while I slept through dusk
When I stuck my head out of the tent flap
like a fury sculpted in ice
some huge fanatical blue
Ten feet away, ears pricked,
then sensing I wasn’t prey
in imaginary time
Day Six Journal
Woke to heavy rain, low clouds,
it’s the park. Let’s go!
There on a hillside, a mother
and by the frosty white,
pits kids against the giddy bus
Stony Creek, noting a mound
where the ravenous bear
gouged, mined, ripped, rocks
thrashing of the region.
the playful grappling of
Followed a fox toward Polychrome.
it rubs its muzzle on a former meal,
Then nearing the overlook, sun shearing
golden, scintillant. I feel like a seedpod wafted
As the road crests over its top, boundaries
discharge all my terms. How easy it seems
with nothing firm to hold me here
Nature, great creator, full
Day ten, went for a good-by look
river, thick gray water. Suddenly
otter? There’s no telling—
Dream? Illusion? Was it
But then that same queer
by the long-necked mottled
flapping, paddling, launches
about to make it when
John Morgan moved with his family to Fairbanks in 1976, where he teaches in the graduate Creative Writing program at the University of Alaska. Denali’s first Writer-in-Residence, he has published three books of poetry, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, The New Republic, and in many other magazines and anthologies. Visit his website.
Last updated: March 29, 2017