Brett Hanley

2021, Poetry

FOR THE LOVE I WILL TRY TO KEEP

I’m not angry but want its nectar, its release –
I’m a goat, sedated, as my friend heaves out
the punching bag from her room and offers me
a shot of bourbon, and I think of myself pouring
out that one bottle in the motel bathroom after
with, you, my love, I’d had enough. Spirits wade
in the toilet of every long-distance relationship.
The shot stings me like a summer swallow
of chlorine. I don’t drown out the sound of rain
outside between punches, each of my fist’s bleats
weaker than the sway of carpet around my hooves.
I am not prey to the night as it gorges on its cold.
I am a dot invisibly connected to another along
an interstate peppered with abandoned cars.

I am in another room without you, and every time
I am this, I am still alone. Over the years I trained
myself in the calisthenics of loneliness, first a child
underneath the coffee table running my fingers
across wood, where I felt what it means to be
solitary chip off into something worse. I gave myself
splinters, but death didn’t visit until I was nineteen,
when I took two men back to my dorm, and one
of them began to cry. I have a wife, he told us, but I
want us here, both of you
. And each of us then became
divisible by three and more like silt, which is itself
still lively, perhaps more open to life because
by nature it goes with the flow, something I either
do too much or too little, as you know well.

I believe death is the loss of thought of the beloveds
and maybe the nearly beloveds. A man kept a picture
of my grandma in a drawer until he died. His wife
called after his funeral to tell her. I understand him
better than I do myself, which is to say I like story
more than flesh, but what rules me is that my body
can’t unlearn panic or love, its Mount Saint Helens
and Vesuvius, active when they want to be. The first
sign of a volcano eruption is a small earthquake beneath
it, and the night I met you there was an explosion
at the chemical plant outside of town that shook
the drinks on our table. I threw out the loose pictures
I kept in a box for seven moves because they stuck
together. This was right before you slept over.

My sister told me the void I can’t fill is God-shaped,
and in some ways I agree with her, but there’s not much
I can do about it, my goat horns scratching the crust
of the earth as if heaven is somewhere at its core.
The devil has horns, but I promise, oh don’t leave now,
they are not anything like mine. Five years ago, a psychic
told me my pattern: everyone I loved would decide,
in the end, they wanted someone else. That night,
I drove to a parking lot and let grief scream its way out
of me in my car. The grackles on the telephone wire flew
upward and out toward smog when they felt my noise.
There’s no place truly soundproof in this world, and I
don’t want there to be. I want you to be able to hear me,
and I want to hear you, even the you under your breath.

We meet on the coast in Mississippi again, a state
I never wanted to know, and a casino fixture tells us
she thinks we are beautiful and must be so happy
to be two girls in love out in the open, even though we
are enclosed in a room full of fake coins and real smoke.
We will leave each other soon, the only tangible proof we
exist outside of this sad adult playground in the tread
of my car’s tires. Right now, we stand before pink neon,
and it occurs to me that this slot machine will probably
go on living beyond us, beyond me. Play to win, it shrills.
I was given a penny slot life, but you are here with me,
in that king-size sweater, and I feel all of your warmth
pooling into your hand, think of the sheet of silk
that is your back, as we walk toward another glow.


Brett Hanley is a Poetry Editor for Southeast Review and a PhD candidate at Florida State. Their work is forthcoming or has recently been published in Redivider, Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Puerto del Sol, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. She has received support from The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and American Poetry Journal recently published their debut chapbook, Defeat the Rest.