Bird Watching at the End of the World does not shy away from hard conversations. Lisa Mangini’s collection presents the reader with a series of portraits, impressions, and preservations of self in the face of trauma, illness, and other sources of emotional upheaval. The book is at its best when confronting brutal things, such as the specifics of the horrifying reality of being sick. “This is Your Body Speaking” is a particularly strong series that speaks of the ways the body can break.
In places, I wished to see the explanations stripped away to allow me to see with more focus the precise, unforgiving depictions of specific moments, acts, and sights. Mangini is clearly capable of powerful, vivid imagery and strong descriptions of very particular subjects:
“Consider the time you were age six, on errands
with your mother: the lollipop from the bank
melting into one round sliver on your tongue,
the cardboard stick fraying from your spit.”
(From “My Subconscious Reminds Me Not to Be too Optimistic”)
“Between the feral and the house of god:
the original pinata.”
(From “The Fate of the Bee Hive Discovered in the Convent Walls”)
Those poems that don’t make full use of this ability can feel plain, more prosaic than poetic, especially as sound and rhythm are not always prioritized. Yet there are places where this style works. In some cases, Mangini embraces this and writes prose poetry, which works more often than not once the reader catches on to the ongoing narrative. The poems in general become stronger toward the middle and end of the book. And the titular poem is worth the wait.
Overall, while speaking unflinchingly of death, Bird Watching at the End of the World becomes more poignant and more alive the further you delve into Mangini’s collection.