Writing the Distance: John Morgan

The Covid 19 pandemic is isolating Alaskan writers. We can no longer attend workshops or public readings. The coffee bars where we met with other writers are closed. To bridge these physical gaps, 49 Writers is providing this on-line forum for Alaskans writing the distance. John Morgan provides today’s poem and photograph.


1. Last night I dreamt I was washing my hands.

2. Strong wind. And leaves that survived the winter fall and stick. Their stiff stems hold them upright like small brown pennants waving in the drifts.

3. The twins, thirteen months old, were utterly charming. A girl and a boy—she stands and takes a wobbly step to loud applause.

4. My boot-tracks from yesterday, tracking a fox’s four-clawed trail, and ahead more tracks where a rabbit bounded across the road. Deep gashes to my right—a moose?

5. Our niece, a doctor in NY, writes: “Well technically I’m in the hospital, but in a low density area with few face to face patients. My role is to handle the stable ones by phone. We’re trying to prevent them from having any medical reason to leave home.”
6. The Japanese transition from fact to art: in Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North he sometimes makes things up, then alters and revises. See Earl Miner,Japanese Poetic Diaries.

I said, “I hope he gets it.”
She said, “I hope he gets it and it kills him.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, just let him suffer a bit.”
“I want him dead!”
“I’m shocked. A nice person like you…”

8. Within a day the twins accepted me—their great uncle, filling in for grandpa, my recently deceased brother. My white moustache is of special interest: they’d pull it if I let them.

9. Snow drifts at eye level out my office window. I once saw a fox out there. Digging down a foot or more, it uncovered a bird that had smashed against the window and when it finished eating, it dropped a proud turd in the hole.
10. They’ve discovered knobs and pull on them to see what will happen. Sometimes a door opens. Sometimes a knob comes off in your hand.

11. In this week’s New Yorker, every article is about the virus. The writers quote the literature of plagues: Boccaccio, Defoe, Poe, Camus. And on TV, no other news gets airtime. Someone who almost died says that when his lungs filled with liquid and no air came in it felt horrible, like drowning, it was awful.

12. A Facebook friend asks if I have a poem that I recite while washing my hands.


*Note: the zuihitsu is a Japanese form involving loosely related prose sections, often numbered. Calling on free association, it makes use of diary material, lyrical fragments, and brief essays. The word zuihitsu means “follow the brushstroke.”

John Morgan moved to Fairbanks in 1976 to teach in the creative writing program at the University of Alaska. His eighth book, The Moving Out: Collected Early Poems, was published last year by Salmon Poetry.

2 thoughts on “Writing the Distance: John Morgan”

  1. Thankyou John…. your poetry is so good.
    I loved the Japanese form that you wrote in. It hit a chord in my heart …. especially your description of the twins.

  2. Great to see my friend Linda’s comment!
    this is the form I need right now.
    Thanks for using it well to share the incredible significance of life’s small moments.

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