Absence of Wings

By Arleen Paré

Categories: Poetry
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773861234, 144 pages, October 2023

Award-winning poet Arleen Pare’s latest collection, Absence of Wings, is both an intimate family portrait and a public documentation of how we, as a society, can fail to protect our children.


Absence of Wings depicts the extraordinary and tragically foreshortened life of A.—Paré’s niece, Brazilian, adopted, racialized, and living with multiple mental health diagnoses. In her deft and clear poetics, accompanied by documentary pieces in the tradition of C.D. Wright’s One with Others, Paré is both witness to and emotionally engaged in the life and death of A. The result is deep and heart-felt, both factional and fictional, poetry and prose, holding its subject, A., heart-close and 3,000 miles away. Absence of Wings unfolds on many levels; it embraces the private and public spheres; it is as intimate as family, as worldly as the public and personal politics that surround each life. It both observes and embraces, always with the important question of the world’s unprotected children in mind.


“‘At which point could this story have saved itself,’ Arleen Paré asks in Absence of Wings. Her sister adopts an ‘overactive,’ song-filled orphan from Brazil and, all things being ‘equal’ in Canada, this little girl should more than just move: her life, invigorated by a cornucopia of opportunity, should thrive. It should take flight. That it does not and shadows those who love her is the burden of this clear-eyed, tear-streaked social autopsy. On our collective behalf, in a poetry that is as sublimely spare as it is steadfastly detailed, Paré as aunt, sister, citizen, and poet gives voice to the only perspective that to her feels tenable and honest, one of emotional witness.”

—John Barton

Absence of Wings is the work of perhaps the superlative lyric poet working in the language. Following Paré’s deeply given First and Last, the pluriform genius here involves a supremely empathic imaginative parallax of thrown voices; a singular gift to conduct book-length crescendo via musical techniques of tempo, rhythm, and refrain; and what might be the formal perfection of stanzaic cascade. This book reminds one how richly lucky we are to have such poets as this one to tell us the truth.”

—Kevin Heslop

“In this volume, Paré bears witness to the brief and meteoric life of A., the daughter of her younger sister, adopted from Brazil at age eight—a songbird, an angel in a purple coat. Weaving together poetry and prose, historical record and voiced speculation, Paré recreates an unfolding tragedy: attachment and love across borders and marrows set within the context of explicit and implicit racism, the vulnerability of children (past, present, worldwide), the failure of safety nets and social programs, and the hard realities of mental illness and generational trauma. There is snow when A. enters her new life in Ottawa; snow when her loud and restless heart stops, alone. Between, there are wings (feathered and unfeathered), birds, angels, and song; and there is history: known, unknown, never able to be known. Hold her hand, keep her safe, bring her home is a mantra repeated throughout, but there is no safety in this story—brutal, brilliant, and necessary, told with poetic grace and fierce love.”

—Laura Apol