paper • 94 pages • 16.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-945588-67-9
Pub Date: February 15, 2021


Abigail Wender

In her debut collection, Reliquary, Abigail Wender addresses losing a brother to prison and, ultimately, opiate addiction. The text also considers womanhood, motherhood, and marriage in lyric poems that confront the complicated nature of grief, the effects of illness on family, and how love—even bliss—figure into grief’s equation. The collection suspends time, as the speaker weaves between flashbacks and the present, assembling fragments and vignettes of her childhood and marriage. In the book’s moments of solace and interiority, such as in the poem, “Hiking,” Wender contemplates how to hold on and to what. In this particular poem’s reflection on forgiveness, the speaker asks, “Are there words for us, America, / high on an uppermost branch?,” and the collection responds with a resounding yes.


He’s one more man
lit with prison fluorescence.

The day he’s released, he welcomes me,
“What took you so long?”

Tears in my mouth.
Feckless, I think.

Dressed in street clothes, he looks well enough.
My arm around him, the prodigal,

I bring him to our father’s house.
Oh, I’m not so different from the bitter sibling.

Praise by Kimiko Hahn
Praise by Carl Phillips

A reliquary is a receptacle for a holy person’s belongings—such as a scrap of clothing or a tooth. In her marvelous collection, Abigail Wender breaks open the meaning to explore varying contexts for the sacred. She finds the quotidian Timex or pfennig, the ritual stone lion in a cemetery, and the abstract in something like kindness. In these poems, the reader will find a keenly-felt personal landscape and, along the way, the loss of a brother as he alternately runs away, returns, and fails to stay away from death. With sadness and fury, the poet moves outward, ‘like those who hold oil lamps to light the road.’ Reliquary is a cause for celebration.

“This is a reliquary // to hold my brother’s gifts— / his sad kindness,” says Abigail Wender in her moving, meditative debut, a book of poems whose economy and precision of thought arise and speak to us from within the particular silence of “two minds not making amends,” as Wender negotiates the estrangement between herself and a brother lost to addiction, imprisonment, and their eventual, fatal effects. How to make amends with the dead? How do we extend to the dead—or indeed, receive from them—the ‘breath of forgiveness?’ The taut poems of Reliquary enact the open-endedness of these questions, refuse the falseness of absolute answers, and invite us to accept the fact of death while insisting that there’s still time—which is to say, they remind us, should we tip toward despair, to keep a space for hope.