The Ache and the Wing, Sunni Brown Wilkinson

The Ache and the Wing was the winner of the 2020 Sundress Chapbook Contest.

In this sublime collection, poet Sunni Brown Wilkinson shapes guilt and grief into a narrative of love, loss, and possibility. The Ache and the Wing explores the flickering, flighty nature of life by allowing a glimpse into the speaker’s world after the death of a newborn son. Bodies become houses, three-and-a-half-inch gaps appear in an old Irishman’s brain, and birdsong reverberates throughout these healing poems. Wilkinson gives life to last words. Her honest, yet delicate poems combine grief with possibility in the hope of rebuilding one’s life in the wake of absence.

“In a ‘world wired for worry,’ enter these elegant poems. A catalogue of the real, The Ache & The Wing is filled with the miraculous everyday—the arms of the saguaro raised like ‘monks blessing the cracked earth;’ filled as well with ‘what eats your heart / into grave simplicity.’ The kaleidoscopic forms of loss include the burning of Yosemite and the weeping body of a stillborn child. Maybe, ‘the world is a starving coyote,’ maybe this poet has ‘so much sad truth to say,’ but the haunting images also hold hope. Perhaps the poems can teach ‘the difficult, / liquid art of living,’ teach their own delicate balancing of the ‘broken and beautiful.’ Here, Wilkinson marvels at birds who ‘make music out of nothing;’ she commands us: ‘open your emerald throat again.'”
-Kimberly Blaeser, author of Copper Yearning, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2015-16

“Prepare yourself for grief-work. For deep empathy-work. Then enter the hospital room of a mother who’s just given birth, hold the small cold body for three hours with her, see his blue eyes, dab his weeping ’tissue-paper skin.’ The brutal honesty, rawness, and lyric beauty of these poems will guide you down the mineshaft of sorrow, flesh you in a mother’s after-birth body dropping ‘milk / tears / one / by one / down / your / loose / and ragged / torso.’ Wilkinson’s astonishingly vulnerable and masterfully crafted poems, ‘Something between a prayer / and a baring of teeth,’ will leave you trembling, full of ache, yearning for wings, attending to that ‘darkest hallelujah.'”
-Dayna Patterson, author of If Mother Braids a Waterfall

“Lyrical and elegiac, this collection boldly explores a range of personal tragedies and uncertainties—the unexpected death of a son, the memory of a mother leaving, the realization that life had different plans than were originally conceived. As the speaker so succinctly states, ‘I don’t want another love story. / I want immortality,’ but if immortality is off the table, then let us sit with a collection that page after page does everything it can to provide an authentic space to heal.”
-Esteban Rodriguez, author of The Valley