Bonfires & Other Vigils

Bonfires and Other Vigils

Colleen Alles

Any event can be a vigil: a walk by a river, a flu shot at Walgreens, an hour spent by a bird feeder attracting mostly cardinals. A vigil means you are keeping watch, and these poems are watching the world around them—and the worlds beneath those worlds, too. The poems in this collection pull from dreams and apparitions as much as they do reality: a woman in a house, a coffee mug, a book of matches, a load of unfolded laundry, a goldfish won at a county fair. All is fair game. Bonfires & Other Vigils celebrates the watching in unconventional ways. Readers can expect to revel in the elusive wonder of haziness, otherworldliness, and wildness of examining life through lenses of vigilant dreaming.

Praise for Bonfires & Other Vigils

There is an imperturbable sense of awe running through Bonfires & Other Vigils that settles dynamically between resolute observation and self-assured humility. The pieces offered here occupy poetry’s sweet spot, where the speaker’s personal vantage opens to the immediate familiarity of the universal. Colleen Alles presents her readers with everyday details—a used up wick, a broken eggshell, a mantis—that evoke the possibilities and confounding particulars of being creaturely: regret, confusion, joy, enchantment. In a world that moves at a tremendous clip, Alles invites us to be at home in her clamor of experiences and losses through naming them exactly, but without succumbing to the traps of domestication or malaise. It’s a pleasure to have the door of experience held open by a poet so hospitable and keen-eyed: read this collection with slow and steady attention so you don’t miss a single moment, even the smallest of chances to see the world anew.

Dave Harrity, author of These Intricacies and Our Father in the Year of the Wolf

There’s a sturdy house, a street, a garden, a neighborhood with dark and bright weathers, and a family of human and other lively creatures in these beautifully nuanced poems that invite us to see the largest of ideas in the small and holy domesticities: the fragility of a broken robin’s egg, the all-seeing eyes of a praying mantis, and the vulnerability and resilience invoked by the threat of this broken world. These are tender home-loving poems that comfort the longings of the heart and satisfy the ear with quiet and precise lyricism. 

  • Anne-Marie Oomen, author of, As Long As I Know You: the Mom Book, winner AWP nonfiction award, and Michigan Author Award 2023-24.

Colleen’s poems live close to the morning. They come alive the third moment after dawn and they follow you around all day, tap you on the shoulder, remind you to pay attention: to the seasonal road, to the polka dot bathing suit, to the scurry of squirrels. And like any good mother, Colleen’s poems take care of you. They tuck you in at night, hold you against the faithless hours, tell you they’re glad you’re safe, how grateful they are that you’re still here. I can say that I’m grateful, too, for these beautiful poems.

  • Garrett Stack, author of Yeoman’s Work

“At the river I found a beautiful place / to be wrong.” In the face of anxieties at home and in the world, Bonfires & Other Vigils doesn’t seek escape or a single, right answer. Instead, these poems are “content to keep waiting” and offer readers a down-to-earth way of paying attention. Alles’ writing honors the tender markers of family life, neighborhoods, and home. These poems ask you to remember the ground right under your feet, working at the level of earthworm and grouse, dandelion and hound, tree rings and a daughter’s curls. Here, a vigil isn’t just about hoping for something different or praying toward a desired outcome. This collection shows how sometimes the best vigil is a refusal: “the letter I wrote / but didn’t send… the naked body I saw… / but didn’t resolve / to change.”

  • Emily Stoddard, author of Divination with a Human Heart Attached
Colleen Alles is a writer, librarian, and Michigander for life. The author of two novels and a full-length poetry collection, Colleen works as a developmental editor and serves as a contributing editor (short fiction) at Barren Magazine. When she isn’t reading or writing, Colleen enjoys distance running and spending time with her family, including a well-loved beagle, Charlie. You can find her online at
Red Rook Press