Spectrum of Flight, a review

Spectrum of Flight, David Hanlon’s new collection of poems, invites the reader to occupy an interior world—of pain, of struggle, of a search for a way to rise. These poems are intensely personal, some of them raw, many of them agonizing, as the speaker turns himself inside out, asking how a gay man can live in a straight world. Not just live in that world, but thrive, prevail, be free, be completely himself. Taken together these poems body forth a painful life story.

In roughly chronological in order, the over-arching narrative takes place in settings you might expect—in public and private places where identity takes shape: the home, the street, in classrooms and stores, where awareness of the body and desire gradually dawn on one. In the first poem of the collection a dead animal is the focus. The speaker, just seven or eight years old, sees a dead fox by the side of the road. Described as “the embodiment of abandon,” he sees himself in it: “because I too only came out in the dark,” “because I too had been gutted,” “because it was stillness after chaos.” In a poem entitled “Swimming Lessons” he is taunted, told he is gay. He writes, “they bully me / they think they know / the damage—they don’t.” In response the poet sounds a positive note in this poem, an expression of strength in the face of this adversity. He wonders “what they would say now / if I told them how lucky I feel / that I became / A strong swimmer.”

Early in the collection, early in this narrative of confusion and suffering, that positive note is a rare affirmation of self. More commonly the reader senses disintegration and struggle to forge an identity in the face persecution and derision.

In many of these poems predator images recur. The poet describes “lion-boys.” Here, for example: “the lion-boys think I run like a girl / I feel their clawed-grip tighten / tear my safety net to shreds.” In the poem “If only my body was made of stone” we hear a teenage boy described as a lion safe in his den, shouting from an upstairs window, “fucking gay boy.” Again and again, Hanlon’s sense of isolation is captured in a line like this: Them / in their maned coalition / boys / Them / in their feathered congregation / girls / Me / a neither.”

Hanlon’s prosody challenges the reader. There are poems with a flowing poetic line, sentences with syntactic completeness, that he pauses, interrupts with a slash. Here, for example:

I remember
being a teenager in that sportswear store with my younger brother /
too scared to ask / the sporty / muscle-manly assistant
for the Adidas cap I wanted / on the top shelf behind the counter /

And here, lines even more disrupted, from “Inhaling the Sky”:

Battered / weary-bodied
toothpick bones / clipped wings
alarm / flapping
unceasing mind-chatters
warm-buzz / anxious bees
fist pummel
collapsing into a ruinous truth

Then, as if to represent further the disjunction, the fracture of a self in a society that rejects him, Hanlon’s words appear on the page in a kaleidoscopic fashion, as something like shrapnel:

The violence in many of these poems is unrelieved. In the final poem, “Revive Yourself,” however, there is this positive note: “Remember,” Hanlon writes. Remember the pain, but remember too the possibility, “when you were a child / and you ran toward everything.”

It is an uplifting conclusion to this collection, suggesting flight not as fleeing from but as rising above.

Spectrum of Flight is published by Animal Heart Press.
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Last Word, Good Word

So I’m standing at the sink the other night washing pots and pans. And I think “spatula” is such a strange word.  Who thought of that? In a novel I was reading a while back, I recall the description of a character’s fingers as “spatulate.”  That sounds Latinate, as in “of or pertaining to Latin in origin.”  

Hmmm, English. 

Continue reading “Last Word, Good Word”

The 00000 Club

Pulling off on the side of the road, it could be argued, was a little dangerous. I was on a freeway just north of Detroit, in a lot of traffic. When I merged, I would have to merge fast. I didn’t care. The car I was driving was coming up on 100,000 miles. I wanted to see the odometer turn and stop at the exact moment when all the zeros aligned.

Continue reading “The 00000 Club”

Sing It

Since the beginning of Covid time, four or five days a week we take this walk. And every morning a song visits me, unbidden.  

This morning it’s the theme from “The Odd Couple.” Where did that come from?  Yesterday it was “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head,” which, for sentimental reasons, I was totally okay with. The day before that I was stuck all morning with The Captain and Tenille, “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which was almost more than I could take. 

Human beings, the study of evolution tells us, are unique among creatures in a couple ways. We use fire. We make (and take) pictures. And we make music. Susanne Langer suggests that humans may have been musical even before they became verbal. So those songs, I guess, are coming to me from not just the eighth grade, but also from somewhere old, somewhere deep in my primordial memory.

Also, laughter sets us apart from other creatures. Yes, I know, hyenas. And there are chimps that can be crackpots and seem to have a great sense of humor. But man laughs. He chuckles, chortles, giggles and guffaws, snickers, titters, and horse laughs.  “Laughter is the property of man,” writes Rabelais, echoing Aristotle.

These mornings, when these songs fill my head, I’ve learned to keep them to myself, even when they make me laugh. They give me pleasure, pleasure my wife does not long share when I hum, whistle, or sing the same phrases over and over. A song like “Love Will Keep Us Together” is guaranteed to drive us apart. On Pine Tree Trail, when we pass the house with the Real Estate One sign out front, I inexplicably want to sing “Let yourself go to Real Estate One” to the tune of “Let yourself go to Pizza Hut.” I’m subject to ditties. I think that’s funny. Three days in a row I strike up that tune.

Not today. My wife is not amused.

Smoke Signal

We’re facing east on Lone Pine Road when my wife asks, “Are you going to take a picture?”

I could take a picture, yes. At 7:00 a.m. the sun is rising in the east. At the end of the road, just above the horizon, the sun is sandwiched between two stands of trees. The sun looks like a peeled nectarine, psychedelic pink, brilliant, beautiful. Also definitely and tragically the wrong color. On my social media accounts last night and the night before, were astonished reports: “Wow!” “Amazing!” “You gotta see this!” along with smart phone photos of the sun setting, with its odd, ravishing color.

Red sun at night, something’s not right.

Red sun in the morning, mankind is screwed. 

It feels that way these days, because right now the whole west coast is on fire, and here in the Midwest the smoke has arrived in our upper atmosphere, between 15,000 and 30,000 feet, not a cloud in a sky that should be blue this morning. It’s not. Our sky is airborne-disaster gray, the sun an over-ripe fruit. 

Every morning I take pictures–of trees, berries, leaves, flowers, fungi, of the deer if they let me. I want this picture of the sun, I really do, almost as much as I don’t want it.  We’re not supposed to see a sun that looks like this. It’s not natural.