William Scott Hanna

Whiskey and the Universe

We both begin from blank white space,
with you in the next room painting

a world all your own and me in here
drinking whiskey and writing poems,

turning the tree outside the window into 
an infinite universe of flowering and

shedding and flowering, and no matter
when, blackbirds huddle in the branches,

each onyx eye reflecting the convex turn 
of distance and time between now and the 

years before you were out there learning colors and 
I was in here drinking whiskey and writing poems 

about loving you even more because the tree outside 
the window fills with blossoms and birds and

keeps our time in its branches as sure as
a stone sheds its shape in rushing water

and now you’re in the next room painting and 
I’m in here drinking whiskey and writing poems 

because I put you in this world, on this page,
and because it’s never quite as simple as

a black bird on a bare black branch,
a worn stone in a clear stream,

choosing which color should come next,
which word should follow this one. 


The Unfolding

Tonight, trying to comfort my son
from what he now accepts as real death, 

I think of how I used to lie in my boyhood bed
staring through near sleep up and out the window,

between tangled branches shuddering in the wind,
the winter moon, the milky-blue night sky, 

listening above my own fears, miles away down in the valley,
to the currents of the Ohio unfolding and unfolding and unfolding.

Now mourning for all those he knows 
he will one day lose, he climbs, sobbing, up into our bed,

burrowing into his mother’s arms as close as physics will allow,
and I know what he is trying to do, where he is trying to go.

Folded now, deep within the rhythms of her voice,
he falls to sleep, and in that sleep, they embrace

so completely, trying to hold each other back
from what they both know will dawn only hours from now,

trying both to go back to what they once were—
with him, alive inside, sleeping, waiting, 

everyday listening to the rhythm of her heart,
the notes of the songs she hums to him,

the pulse of her blood feeding him
tucked safe within that dark space of beginning,

where no knowledge can enter of mourning and age and pain,
only blood, and water, and mother, and persistent time,

ushering him closer and closer toward entering 
the currents of his own life,

toward entering his own


Van Gogh's Sky

Thank God my mother 
never said anything about heaven
when she pointed up, showing me  
for the first time, Orion,
hanging low in late autumn, 
just cresting the eastern hill.

Tonight, it is my son pointing upward,
and I’m tempted to tell him
how the Kiowa believe
the stars of the Big Dipper
were seven sisters running in fear
from their bear brother
and suddenly borne up into the sky,

or how the Blackfoot believe
the stars of the Pleiades
were seven orphan brothers
who could not stand the world
and wanted only to play 
and so were suddenly turned 
into light and dust.

But his awe writes its own myth
on into the whirling yellow stars
awash around a golden moon,
in tonight’s black-blue sky that he 
tells me looks just like Van Gogh’s.

I want him to promise 
to remember this one day,
standing under the open sky,
holding his father’s hand,
years from now,
after tasting sweet ripe fruits, 
and the bitterness of mourning,
once truth has broken through,
with all its agony and joy,
wheeling like the stars 
one after another, 
each second on into the next.


William Scott Hanna is an Assistant Professor of English at West Liberty University in West Liberty, West Virginia where he teaches creative writing, American Literature, and Appalachian Literature. He received his MA from Marshall University and his PhD from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His poetry has appeared in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel and Heartwood Literary Magazine.


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