The Cloud Path

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An imaginative reworking of the elegy that focuses on the difficult work of being with the dying.
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An imaginative reworking of the elegy that focuses on the difficult work of being with the dying.

At the heart of The Cloud Path, celebrated author Melissa Kwasny’s seventh collection of poetry, lies the passing of her beloved mother: the caretaking, the hospice protocols, the last breath, the aftermath. Simultaneously, she must reckon with the array of global crises facing us all: environmental decline, the arrival of a pandemic, divisive social tensions. With so much loss building up around her, Kwasny turns to the natural world for guidance, walking paths lined with aspen, snow geese, and prickly pears. “I have come here for their peace and instructions,” she writes, listening to the willows, the “slant rhyme of their multi-limbed clatter.”

What she finds is a more seasoned kind of solace. The Cloud Path glimmers with nature’s many lively colors—the “burnt orange” of foxes, “cedar / bark cast in the greenest impasto,” white swans intertwined. It also embraces the world’s harsher elements—a dark bog’s purple stench, a hayfield empty of birds. Witnessing life’s constant ebb and flow, the weight of personal and collective grief gradually becomes bearable. The shapes of clouds, cattle bones by the river. “Why not,” she asks, “believe it matters?”

Evocative and wrenching, The Cloud Path compels us to consider the whole of living and dying. A beautifully measured interweaving of personal and planetary loss, these keen and tender poems teach us to see afresh in the lateness of things.

Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 0.25 in
7 oz

Melissa Kwasny

Melissa Kwasny is the author of seven collections of poems, including The Cloud Path, Where Outside the Body Is the Soul Today, Pictograph, and The Nine Senses, which contains a set of poems that won the Poetry Society of America’s 2008 Cecil Hemly Award.

Praise and Prizes

  • “‘Quiet is different than silence, the latter more potent, / more mature,’ Melissa Kwasny writes late in this book of expertly managed and captivating poems, the surest of her career. By then we know the subjects of The Cloud Path: the bereavement of a daughter who walks with her mother’s memory; the adjustment of a lesbian couple to a country town where ‘the villagers, with their upper hand, are dangerous’; and an everyday animism in nature where ‘the fact is, consciousness matters; matter knows it.’ The thinking is dynamic, oblique, and agile in these poems of deep stillness, of conviction: ‘Given my disposition, I will live in one place, / not trembling like the aspen, but swaying / like the heavy spruce, troubled by forces larger than me.’ The concerns and grief that stir so many of us move through this poet like she is their instrument. She transmutes their power. ‘It is not silence without my lost ones in it.’”

    Brian Blanchfield
    author of Proxies
  • “Melissa Kwasny writes the poetry I want to read as the world ends. Complicating the boundaries between love and grief, abundance and scarcity, these stunning poems help us navigate our shared twenty-first century catastrophes. Despite her skepticism (or because of it), Kwasny’s ‘faith in the intellectual supremacy / of earth’ gives her the courage to linger on life’s difficult truths. She reports back to us in a sparkling syntax and breathtaking clarity that only deepens our gratitude for what the earth provides, then takes away. ‘Redeemed by proximity to these last of religious signs,’ Kwasny writes, ‘if I believed in priests, I would confess to the pines.’”

    Rob Schlegel
    author of In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps
  • “Expletives and hallelujahs rose from heart to mouth in equal measure as I read these lush, wise poems that grieve both a dead mother and a dying Mother Earth. A meditation on aging in a fragile global moment, Kwasny’s The Cloud Path is essential reading for anyone who cares about our planet and its inhabitants, for those enduring loss, for those who value the creaturely as well as the eternal. And for writers, well, this book is a transcendent how-to, a guide and a treasure to read alongside contemporary literary naturalists such as Terry Tempest Williams, Camille Dungy, and Kerri ní Dochartaigh.”

    Kathy Fagan
    author of Bad Hobby