Listen to a short excerpt from “Flip-flops and the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” an essay in American English, Italian Chocolate.
Listen to a short excerpt from “Psyched,” an essay in American English, Italian Chocolate.
This one is for you, Mr. Frank, my high school algebra and geometry teacher from Freeland High School, 1966-67, 1967-68. I think you’re out there…
Shown in these photos, pan de higo, a fig and almond cake from Spain. This exotic confection dates back to Muslim rule of Spain (711-1492), when, seeing the plentiful fig crop that was beyond the limits of human consumption, some ingenious Spaniards or Moors decided to squash figs and almonds together in a cake pan or pie plate–a form of some sort. You get the idea. They probably rolled it in fig leaves, set it aside, and let it dry. The result: a thick, dense, sweet, figgy, almondy treat. When you eat it, the seeds go pop! with each bite you take.Continue reading “The Geometry of Dessert”
A Yahoo headline greets me this morning: “Study says cheese and red wine could boost brain health.” That’s good news. Two things I like, and I’m all in favor of brain health. The ten-year study, published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease, involved 1787 people who participated in a Fluid Intelligence Test, “which provides a snapshot of a person’s ability to think quickly.”
Quickly? Typically I think: Quick, have another glass of wine. But red wine and cheese . . . together? Not in my mouth, thanks. I like red wine too much to risk sullying it with cheese; I like cheese too much to risk ruining it with red wine.Continue reading “Yick”
Think of all the life that goes flying past you on a daily basis, a lot of it funny, some of it painful, much of it slightly absurd. Lots of this stuff I want to remember. Like many people today, I want to write my life. Some capture these moments in diaries and journals. My essays are memory captures that dig down, exploring how these small details of everyday life resonate, how they trigger memories of other moments and events, how they relate to current events and literature, science, and history.
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:
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
warm-buzz / anxious bees
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.
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”
Happy I sat with Kevin Trovini a while ago to talk about writing. Watch and listen here:
Call it an audible.