In times like these, coping with stress and change and seemingly unavoidable hopelessness, David Hanlon’s Spectrum of Flight is a testament to perserverance. His poems outline his strength and growth as he walks us back through his own life, showcasing many moments when he was knocked down and stood up again, a little taller each time.
The first poem opens with vivid descriptions of roadkill, so that when you enter this book you are literally thrust straight into the heart of it, into loss and loneliness and the multitude of ways that our homes can fail us. How many pedestrians even falter a single step when passing a dead animal? Most of us just give a wide berth and spare no thought for the decay. Our familiarity with the course of nature makes us numb to the sorrows of it, “Because it was stillness after chaos / Because we walked past it every day.”
“how easily a thing can / destroy its own kind / call it justice keep firing.”
One of Hanlon’s themes throughout his work is the danger of growing accustomed to tragedy, and accepting it as tolerable. He writes of a childhood shaped by bullying and homophobic comedians, being chased and sinking under the weight of name-calling. His recollection of childish ridicule morphs into the discovery of even more horrifying wide-scale punishments, like death by stoning, and we see all too plainly “how easily a thing can / destroy its own kind / call it justice keep firing.” Our world today provides no shortage of this so-called justice, and we are called to take notice.
Although he does mention social issues on a global scale, much of Hanlon’s focus is confessional, illuminating the monumental smaller moments of life as a gay man. He writes through his shame over his too-feminine voice and the racing heartbeats whenever it is time to come out to someone new. Each poem is another step on the journey of his life and evolution, full of trepidation at the different reactions of strangers. How taxing it must be to constantly meet people and have to evaluate where they stand on the scale of oblivious or well-meaning, to judgmental or harmful. This evaluation must take place, each time, in an instant – fast enough to determine if it’s safe to continue holding hands with your same-sex partner, or if you’d be better off letting go.
Hanlon’s triumph is a hard-won battle that must be won every day. He writes to hold the hands of all those boyfriends he once felt that he could not, to swim powerfully and not drown in the waves of calamity. He writes of becoming an eagle after being hounded to the ends of the earth, safety net ripped; of no longer wanting a body made of stone, but the ability to regrow bones, to continue to live more sturdily and steadily than before.
“I was a moth fleeing the lightbulb / only to throw myself back into it over and over again”
“I was a moth fleeing the lightbulb / only to throw myself back into it over and over again,” he reminisces. His rising above pain is motivational because his description of that pain is so shattering. Hanlon pays significant attention to detail in the cracking and slow fragmentation of an ice cube cluster under hot water, amplifying this suffering and likening it to our own. As artistically as he defines darkness, he also maintains that we can find love even in the shadows.
Once one person finds the love they need, in whatever form from whatever source, there is a certain drive to spread this love. Hanlon hints at this, perhaps the most noble work of a lifetime – the everlasting, patient duty of wanting to help others recover, too, but knowing that everyone needs time. The last line of his last poem, the firm and resounding “I’m not scared,” is the mark of a readiness and willingness to endure this work. Hanlon’s poems give voice to his commitment to rise above the forces that attempt to push him down, and to pull others up along with him.
To keep up with him and his poetry news, check out his Twitter @DavidHanlon13.
(Animal Heart Press, 2020)
BETHANY MARY has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.