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Archives of the Air

John Morgan

ISBN: 978-1-910669-11-2

Page Count: 68

Publication Date: Friday, March 13, 2015

Cover Artwork: “An Intimate Gathering,” fiber art by Karin Franzen. Commissioned by Bill Stringer in memory of his wife, Sandra.

About this Book

As caribou encounter the oil pipeline on Alaska’s North Slope and cranes navigate their way through the towering mountains of the Alaska Range, Archives of the Air brings the reader into contact with the strange and fascinating world of the far north. A day-long canoe trip on an Alaskan river, and poems from Morgan’s residency in Denali National Park, combine with explorations of history, art, and family in this wide-ranging collection by one of Alaska’s most celebrated poets. Archives of the Air is John Morgan’s sixth book of poetry. 

Author Biography

John Morgan studied with Robert Lowell at Harvard, where he won the Hatch Prize for Lyric Poetry. At the Iowa Writers Workshop, he earned an MFA and was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. In 1976, Morgan moved with his family to Alaska, where for many years he directed the Creative Writing Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and many other magazines. In 2009, he served as the first writer-in-residence at Denali National Park. Annie Dillard writes that Morgan’s poems “are strong and full of carefully controlled feeling. They are tender and precise evocations of the moral and sensory life of man.”

Read a sample from this book

Fairbanks, Alaska

Ten below and ice-mist on the river  
when “Oh,” she says, “a butterfly!” as it
comes wobbling from the sun-room, settles 
on the floor. We offer sugar water 
in a spoon and watch its sucking tube unroll. 
It sips, then flutters to the windowsill 
and folds its scalloped wings against the chill.

By noon, bright sun, and full of spunk it beats 
against the glass, in love with light. The ground 
outside, a spanking white, looks welcoming. 
Its wings, like paisley, red and brown, quiver 
as it paws the pane, embodiment of
summer in late fall, cold-blooded thing,
whose hopes will never be this young again.


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.


That day is coming soon when our people, 
all the cousins, pets, children 
will begin to disperse like the insects 
of summer after the petals fall. 
And where do they go, those bees,

those dragonflies? Into the soil 
where they break into pieces, a wing, 
an antenna, a thorax, absently dreaming 
of spring, as the long cold settles over 
them, their buzzing and sipping forgotten. 

And a great age passes like those 
lumbering eras we learned of 
in grade school, or the unbelievable time 
it takes to make a star and its planets and 
evolve a living world—all gone to ground, 

and trillions of years slip by in silence 
under the earth, but then one day, one 
millennium, a gentle humming and something 
oozing, gripping, reaching, this relentless longing 
toward light—urgent, fantastic. It could happen.

Copyright © John Morgan 2015

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