Lifers

Nels Hanson

                                             

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.

 

Cathedrals

Nel Hanson

                                                           

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.

 

Signal

Nels Hanson

                                             

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

Nels Hanson

 

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. 

911

Nels Hanson

 

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.

 

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