“Don’t Hang Your Soul on That”, “Slant” and “Sugar Sandwiches”

In Poetry Issue Six by Robert Hilles

Don't Hang Your Soul on That

Don’t Hang Your Soul on That


You tell me that the soul
Is a locked room
We never get to see inside
It is in every house and
Every building we are in
Even here
At your parent’s house in Khon Kaen
I imagine it being
Like the bedroom in the far corner
But you say no that isn’t what
You mean
Nor is it the imagined expanse
Of you and me
The soul isn’t easily known
And not of any moment
Although it runs us
Like a very quiet engine

You say it’s only knowable
Through deep concentration
So deep it is easy to get lost
Go the wrong way
That happens often you say
Look at us
You don’t elaborate
But instead say don’t—
Only believe
Stand in the open doorway
Let the wind
Rush in
That is the best explanation
For how we have come
To this love
So thorough it spreads out forever
Look one way
Then the other
You say
The view both ways is the same
That is how easy it is
To know that this is love
And not war
Not happiness
Not the forming

Of a story
A set of days
But it is a set of days
And in time
You must not
Hang your soul on that
Do not depend
On what you know
Or understand
Instead go straight
Out the door
And keep walking
And don’t look back
There is no need to
Because your soul
Will always be
With you
As will I
And must be
For after all
This is love
For after all
This is love


Water flows
Down a hillside
Rushes toward
Toward traffic
Pushes over walls
Floods are not the products
Of Gods
But the earth’s
Wound engine
We call it
Mother or father
Or twin

Love isn’t slanted
Doesn’t run downhill
Flood or flow even
Doesn’t rampage
Or put asunder
Has no way in or out
Is not a destination
Or point of departure
Isn’t what binds
This now to the next now
Or that paused equation
We stop calculating in the middle

Because of you I see
That I don’t contain all
That is me
Nor did I ever
There is no circle
To be closed
No fence
No wall
No border

I imagine us
At a river’s edge
A powerful current
Rages and swirls past
Carries with it
Uprooted trees
Wooden boxes

Broken bits of lumber
The roof of a sunken car
You take my hand
As though we are
About to jump in
But instead watch
Everything rush past
The river will eventually
Recede to a trickle
And then disappear

You point at something
Floating in the hurried water
But I don’t see it
Your head turns
As you follow its progress down stream
And still I don’t see it
Won’t ever see it
That is proof
That I love you
Even if it all slants downhill
Has always slanted

Sugar Sandwiches

For Rain

When I was a boy
Sometimes between paydays
There wasn’t anything to eat
But sugar sandwiches
Which consisted of margarine
Spread on two slices of white bread
And a tablespoon of white sugar
Added to that

I went hungry at times
But didn’t starve
As people do in this world
Even now
I know what it’s like
To open an empty fridge
But that is not the same
As having nothing to eat for days
Or weeks
To waste away
To lose hope

You’ve helped me realize
That wealth is like deep snow
The farther in it I go
The more difficult it is
To go back or ahead
The snow just as deep
Either way
Abundance is a moral trap
And having too much
Rots our insides
And no matter how much someone has
It is never enough
In those years when I ate sugar
Sandwiches I walked
Up the driveway at our house
In waist deep in snow
The middle of winter
February say
Having got off the school bus
It was already dark
My brother and I entered

A cold empty house
Dad in town or late from work
Mom in the hospital in Fort William
We lit the wood stoves
And when the house warmed
We made sugar sandwiches
Then later watched TV
Ben Casey or Perry Mason
Shows where someone was either sick
Or had committed a murder
Both things far from our lives
The house eventually got warm
We could move around in it
And Dad came home
Smelled of beer
Sat at the kitchen table
Smoked a cigarette
And ate nothing
Not even a sugar sandwich
He saved those for us.
Maybe he made a cup of coffee
With the percolator on the stove
And put in the bit of
Carnation condensed milk left

Yes this is a love poem
And how sugar sandwiches
Helped me to love
You all these years later
To find your warmth
At night inside covers
Find in your morning smile
How I am built from sugar sandwiches
And a warm house
On a cold February night
How I turn to you in bed
And hold you and
Don’t feel like I am falling

About the Author

Robert Hilles

Robert Hilles lives on Salt Spring Island and has won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for "Cantos From A Small Room" and his novel, Raising of Voices, won George Bugnet Award. His second novel, A Gradual Ruin, was published by Doubleday Canada and now is in paperback. His books have also been shortlisted for The Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Prize, The W.O. Mitchell/City of Calgary Prize, The Stephan Stephansson Award, and The Howard O’Hagan Award. He has published fifteen books of poetry, three works of fiction (including A Gradual Ruin) and two nonfiction books (Kissing the Smoke and Calling the Wild). He recently completed a short story collection called, Little Pink Houses. His latest poetry collection, Line, was published in the spring of 2018. He is currently working on a novel set in Thailand tentatively called, Don't Hang Your Soul On That.

Read more work by Robert Hilles .

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