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.
In the darkest ocean of your heart
stands an island, silent, except for
cries of always circling famished
gulls, fog-shrouded Alcatraz though
not abandoned, place of empty cells
like tiered combs of exiled bees, and
haunted. True, years ago the warden
boarded a last boat. His inmates wait
at still-barred windows looking out
a mile and a quarter of treacherous
water an old song says. The mileage
might as well extend past the ghostly
daylight moon and back, unguarded
fortress inescapable. And yet legend
insists three broke out, reached shore
freezing and exhausted before cruel
current swept them beyond the bridge
spanning one world and a next. Who
knows where fugitives escape or suffer
with what false name, disguise? Law’s
the law, model prisoners never granted
pardon, arrest or trial, their conviction.
Sometimes when wind rises and mist
clears you can almost make out faces
of the convicts so far innocent, several
patiently resigned, others racked with
rage, many blank, confused, in awe,
staring toward a city they never knew,
hardly recognize as real, the towers of
chrome and emerald Oz glimpsed only
from vast distance past froth like teeth,
gray waves this afternoon pure cobalt,
as blue and endless as the foreign sky.
In the rising sun a thousand hexagons
of mesh across the balcony’s rails
to keep the cat from slipping out
cast open shadows on the orange’s
new leaves, stained glass streaming
with yellow light turned green.
The aisles of October peach trees
dropping yellow leaves falling softly
on roads of yellow leaves, some far
country’s lost gold, form distant naves,
paths to the altar of the amber sun.
To the great barn stacked high with
golden hay bluebirds dipped through
the loft door and later wild pigeons
roosted in the rafters when the horses
left, until the owl came, then a flicker
carving holes at the eaves for slanting
shafts of sun lighting the bare floor.
On Crete pillars of the palace are
narrow at their base, grow wider
as they rise, memory of tree trunks,
root-ends in the air, branch-ends
buried in ground, so the cut pines
won’t sprout green needles again.
Movie called Farinelli about
the 18th-century opera castrato
recalls W.H. Hudson who wrote
Green Mansions and protected birds.
Victorians poked out eyes of captives
in gilded cages, sure pain or blindness
would make their songs sweeter.
Red-blinking transmission tower high
atop Bear Mountain, 10,000 feet above
the Valley floor brought The Three
Stooges who ransacked the mansion
of the large woman wearing pearls.
Brick sidewalk bordered by yellow
tulips leads to a blue door, pearl button
for a bell that rings like a church bell,
echoing, echoing through chambers of
the heart until you walk home again.
The curtained houses of the old
ring with silent prayers of the dead
and the falling dust is a choir.
Cada cabesa es un mundo, Every
head is a world, people used to say.
Each world has its city, its capital,
tall cathedral with a bell and stained
windows you can’t see through.
Soon they’re going to mine the Moon,
home of Chinese Rabbit, the alchemist
mixing potion of eternal life. Not rare
ancient formula we want but necessary
ores and chemicals, what frozen water
we can find, to start a manned station
and excavate for gold and diamonds
to rocket back to Mother Earth. Too
cynical, considering for instance lost
buffalo? Ask framed Richard Kimble,
The Fugitive. Sick of human law no
doubt he’d seek sanctuary in the dark
side’s permanent eclipse, if not still
hunting one-armed man who killed his
wife and bashed the doctor’s head, to
prove to cruel idiots he’s no murderer.
Everywhere lurk two-armed men in
business suits and what few sane left
are on the run, the planet one murder
scene. Moon the launch pad to other
worlds to gain what new knowledge?
Meet more advanced for what secret?
So far only the very rich can fly to our
satellite that rules the tides in women
and the sea, adjusts our axis for each
season without charge. Full, Gibbous,
Half, Quarter, Crescent, once safely out
of reach of single sleeves who kill for
money, your signal is a flashing code,
vessel calling in distress on this black
ocean to wrong ship of rescue, our blue
destroyer camouflaged and attacking.
Crow, Angel, Man
A crow beats hurriedly overhead
with naked Y-shaped branch
clamped in its beak, the tall tree
waiting for the nest already
formed in the mind’s dark eye.
I suppose in heaven white angels
freed from their old bodies
without wings never tire or
have to sleep, their second life
the dream they live but then
the crow also lives its dream
as wingless and with eyes
closed or open we live ours.
The world has gone to hell,
madder than a March Hare.
I copy. Ten-four. What can
I do but drive on with siren
shrieking less urgently than
screams, past dropped red
flares toward those flames,
black smoke rising not far
but forever close at hand?
Now we’re all the victim
waiting for an ambulance,
police not quite police or
are they, strapped tightly
in battle array? How name
the culprit when each one
is the enemy? Armed men
are at the door, across 50
states 300 million guns and
growing sprout as iron corn,
not sleeping, eager for their
moment promised when hot
from the forge. Still, if God
can’t someone must answer
unbroken alarm that has no
answer. Take cover, stay in
place. Call if you need me,
my only number always 911.