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Ash in the Tree

Gillian Kessler

“Gillian Kessler has the ability to whisper lines like “When is it long enough / to have lived long enough?” into her poems with both conviction and confession. Her work, and this book, pulsate questions that can only be answered once the answer is just out of sight. For Kessler, death is a relationship, a transmitted energy, an obsession replete with more sorrow than fear. She spends time with her images, unfolding them gently, massaging them down the page with grace. These poems ripple through lake water. They are filled with wild horses, hospital smells, and that sort of quiet sadness you can hum to. Kessler finds a way to make you feel things you never knew you were capable of. And once you feel them, it is impossible to return to the day unchanged.”

Phillip Schaffer, author of Bad Summon

“Gillian Kessler sings songs of grief, mortality, and matter in a voice that is as tender and attentive as a child reaching out to touch a wildflower. In these earth-touchings, Kessler restores our connection with what we thought had eluded our grasp; in Ash in the Tree, the going and the gone hold hands.”  

Chris Dombrowski, author of Body of Water

Gillian Kessler's poems wind their way through the garden of grief, unafraid and vibrant. This book is a reckoning, a balm for the broken heart.  

Susanna Sonnenberg, author of Her Last Death

“Wryly funny and infinitely wise, Ash in the Tree is an intimate portrait of the life-cherishing power of grief, from sharing a perfect cocktail with one’s 84-year-old mother to a ‘lemon and cement, roses and exhaust’-scented commute. “When is it long enough/to have lived long enough?” Kessler asks in one poem, offering ‘forgiveness/that’s not accusatory’ in another. Like grace, the reader leaves wishing only for more.”

  Jeremy Smith, author of Breaking and Entering

“Reading Ash in the Tree by Gillian Kessler was a profoundly moving experience. I felt the ebb and flow of life and death washing over me and was utterly captivated by the voice of this young mother who loses her hearing and her mother making the connection and devotion between mother and child something desperate and ultimately appreciated for the immortal gift that it is.”

Susie Petrucelli, author of Raised a Warrior

From the book:

In the trees again

Sometimes I remember how

right after you died

I left for a while —

the months are hours of

holidays and memorials,

strange decisions and markers,

the way friends from long ago

trickled back in and

for a while

the only thing I knew

was you

being here

then gone.

I didn’t know then

that the stages of grief

the cyclical rolling hills of it all

could be applied to just

so many things:

the virus,

the centuries of rage,



Now weeks pass and I

don’t cry —

no poems spill forth

at odd moments,

you speaking through me

speaking back

to the world.

The time before

I touched the ash.

The time before

I brought you


And then

I count back



wonder who I would be now

without that sudden shift,

that surreal

castle of time

before the world stopped,

before the streets filled,

When masks were only

what they wore in the hospital,

and I complained to my sisters

that I never knew

what was going on

because I couldn’t hear

a damn word they were saying

though none of them mattered anyway.

You were dying.

You were dead.

And a turkey vulture

calls out and flies low,

red and heavy,

through the forest.

My dog looks up,

I look up, the vulture

moves to another branch

and I lose sight of him,


Ash in the Tree

is a 100 page hand-stitched paperbook w/spine - $16.00

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Ash in the Tree




Ash in the Tree




Montana Poets Series #4

Mark Gibbons, Editor