Connor Harrison reviews The Enemy of My Enemy Is Me—Conor Bracken's debut full-length poetry collection—for the Cleveland Review of Books.
A synecdoche of the U.S. expansionist dream, Bracken’s Kissinger is as authoritative and attractive as he needs to be, full of gifts and lust for the speaker he routinely manipulates and abuses; a speaker who, like so many in such a relationship, endures the bad because the good could always be around the corner. “He threshes you to make you naked,” Kahlil Gibran wrote of love, “He grinds you to whiteness.” “I am // striving towards a whiteness that’s translucent,” writes Bracken, “and Henry says he can already see through me.”
In his debut collection of poems, Conor Bracken traces the nerves of toxic masculinity—white as maggots but taut as lyre strings—that twitch and fizz inside events as homegrown as school shootings and as distant as the execution of medieval French heretics. Everywhere, though, there are bodies: the stout slouch of Henry Kissinger in a towel, a headless snake writhing in a footwell, a cantor with a beautiful voice and an inexorable need to be touched. And then there’s the body of our speaker: “white and alive and in love” and damaged by the same ravenous appetites he isn’t always able to curb. There is no hero here, only a song that turns towards and away from reckoning with the costs the neo-imperial world order extracts from bodies both supine and thrashing. These poems flicker like fire and billow like night’s velvet curtain, which you can “roughen with one hand / and smooth with the other.”