Six Poems

By Nels Hanson 

The Hours

We knew a man who bragged
he owned the first TV in our valley
town, before live channels came
on the air. Each night after work

he stared for hours at the snowy
screen, at still profile of the noble
Indian in war headdress, face from
some lost coin. I’ve done the same,

child sick in bed, ear that broke and
wouldn’t heal, watching shelves of
dust-powdered books I never read,
just the titles. A high tower blinked

red eyes to ward off private planes
with single props, not four like my
father’s B-29 he flew again in loud
flak-filled dreams. At dark it flashed

off and on, go, stop, past the silent
radio when “Gunsmoke” ended, in
the house with ceiling I imagined
the floor, floor ceiling, everything

upside down, wing-backed chair,
green carpet, troweled plaster, oak
table’s lion claws defeating ancient
gravity, anything to pass the time.

Arctodus Simus

Now tremble as terrified you recall live
ghost of the short-faced bear, Arctodus
Simus, fiercest predator in all America,
deadlier by far than dire wolf or vicious
tiger’s saber teeth, and Naegele’s giant
jaguar, fearsome cave lion. Thirty-five
pounds of flesh the horror ate each day,
slew helpless bison, camel, prehistoric
horse, young wooly mammoths. A ton
and a half it weighed, on back legs stood
12 feet, on four paws stared men of early
Clovis people eye to eye. The beast ran
40 miles an hour, perhaps delayed our
entry to new continent before vanishing
11,000 years ago after humans killed all
its prey. Nightmare? Memory? Reports
of bears too large still spur old conjecture
Arctodus lives. A 1920s scientist studied
yellow pelt, odd skull of “MacFarlane’s
Bear” shot 1864 in north Canada. Maybe
slain “Bergman’s Bear” is the “God Bear”
isolated subarctic Kamchatka Russians
dread and by good fortune rarely glimpse,
a starving Sasquatch, snowy Abominable.

The Rider

Have you heard the Mahdi, the 12th
Imam is here, seen the Savior mounted

on the waiting stallion, black, white, like
the robe veiling the face, woman or man,

both or neither? Then forever your eyes
decide the color of the horse, the rider.

Art and Coincidence

Once doomed de Maupassant saved
alcoholic Swinburne from drowning
when he saw him from passing yawl,

Hart Crane who wrote “The Bridge”
near Brooklyn Bridge jumped from
the “Orizaba” voyaging from Mexico

to America while his estranged father
owned the candy company that made
lifesavers. As a soldier Tolstoy most

feared rats, on his deathbed sad Gogol
called for a ladder, Poe for a Reynolds
who’d theorized a hollow earth. Town

clocks stopped for Chekov and Kafka,
snow fell on Point Lobos north of Big
Sur the morning Robinson Jeffers left

his Tor House beside the Hawk Tower
where he spied one sunset from his aerie
mermaid rising from the surf. Author of

“Calligrammes” Guillaume Apollinaire
with bandaged trepanned skull lay dying
of influenza and out his Paris window at

Armistice the crowd screamed “A bas
Guillaume!” – “Down with Wilhelm!” –
the wounded officer sure they meant

himself. Franz Marc who painted blue
horses was shot dead from his horse in
the war, by 12 years old Trakl sensed

someone behind him with raised knife.
He walked into water as a boy until his
black hat floated and later tried to end

his life when alone at Grodek with 90
wounded men. Confined to asylum
whose doctor studied him as “artistic

case” the poet prisoner overdosed on
cocaine day before rich Wittgenstein
arrived. Albert Camus killed in a car

wreck carried the train ticket for same
journey in a coat pocket, The Absurd
old enemy and shadow blatant now as

clockwork, a leaping red-striped tiger.
Some say the writer with T.B., editor
of “Combat” in the French Resistance,

chronicler of plague, a stranger, happy
Sisyphus, of rebels, the Fall, sometimes
attended church to hear the organ pray.

The Meeting

Uncertain Ego and powerful Id
went to dinner and for a while all
went well, small talk about last
night’s unnerving dream, habits

hard to break calling out in sleep,
before the door flew open, bright
Superego arriving unannounced.
No match for either, the shaken

I stepped back as the two went
at it in a blur, dark, light mixed
up till the fighters appeared dim
gray and wouldn’t stop or listen.

That was the evening the Ego left
for good, hit the road that leads
between night and day, only ends
second you realize you’re there.

Curvatures

“You’ll lose your soldiers in the rice
paddies and never find them again,”
Ball told Jack Kennedy in 1961 and

the president answered with irritation,
“Ah George, you’re crazy as hell,” or
so one story goes, but what story, to

what weird beginning or end spiraling
millennia toward last stair of a striped
nautilus we’ve climbed for or thought

we were though fewer times in later
years wondering if instead we crawl
a clam’s round empty sealed double

shell with surprise encounter at each
old turn forever until you start to tire,
run head-down to shatter the way out.


Nels Hanson grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. His poems received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.

 

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