Nels Hanson

Weird Channels

“Don’t eat the bread,
just drink the water –”
From Here to Eternity

Lately words and sentences
trumpet in ways I didn’t hear
until Covid hit, the purchase
altered with a paper, woven

mask or old bandanas. Sorry
Mam, I know the baby bird
needs care but we don’t take
starlings. No, he wasn’t born

yesterday but the day before.
With these fires the air’s like
drinking soup. Strange opera,
each part’s a doctor just from

surgery, the somber baritone
or soprano in an early market
like a morgue. Yes, I want to
but I can’t kiss you anymore,

It okay to touch your dog? TV
hawks outdated merchandise,
Restores all the dead follicles,
Summer here, discover again

the Red Roods, Hearse Castle,
Every man has a different rake
and size, or something, sailing
news from a gabbling channel

losing hold of one frequency.
The tire shop opens tomorrow.
I’m the fourth-grade teacher,
I’m still young but Thursday

I wrote a will. You believe it’s
safe to open letters? I’d rather
starve at home than be evicted,
peck for crumbs on some street.

Every night when I get back I
drop my gown in a hot washer,
shower. Social distancing I ask
a stranger, two orphans, “Have

you sneezed?”, then I eat alone.
One Life Matters, he’s the virus.
No job, no rent. Burn the books,
start over with Year One. Every

conversation sounds off, out of
tenor as a bard remarked about
the sad player all in black. Wait.
Goodbye. Someone’s knocking

at my closed window. See you.
I phoned and phoned, last time
it didn’t ring. Hello? Like Peter
I couldn’t stay awake one hour.

Of a summer evening we’d sit
out on the porch in rockers to
feel the cool breeze as parents
called all the children to sleep.

Before the Coming Rains

Longhaired girls and boys in surplus olive drab stand
in somber rank again, defeated army already changing
into dark trees 50 years ago in a Santa Cruz November
rain, an old war burning on and on. We need rain now,
a warm sudden veering Baja Hurricane, freak pouring
system that ruined three raisin harvests over scattered
years before last small farms failed before the longest
most recent war. California is on fire, after decade of
desert drought, 15,000 lightning strikes, in punishment
for some uncertain crime hot winds sailing orange sun
to an early eclipse. Sugar pines pine beetles killed set
dry careful kindling in the dappling forests, firestorms
exploding near Sequoia’s giant redwoods and Grant’s
Grove north far past Yosemite. At Cressman’s 1930s’
gas station-store at the foot of ascending hairpin turns
a disabled son in sailor’s black-billed cap and bib blue
overalls sat his lifetime on the bench, rocking, waving
to each car and we always waved back. This morning
on TV news it’s just snowfall of soot, running flames
red deer leaping down from Shaver Lake and sloping
granite shores where you swam, later like a would-be
Thoreau lived alone a winter after graduation. Red fox
with tail a bluish flame crossed an icy road, snowfield
toward the creek and evening cedars. You felt at peace
walking quiet autumn paths through verdurous glooms
and winding mossy ways as Keats described, I played
the xylophone of Christmas icicles on an eave, studied
clear stars breathing quartz and thought everything in
the end is one. My grandfather who fought at Belleau
Wood got gassed and never did, offered to send me to
Canada or Old Mexico before I won lottery. Again my
father’s bomber approaches the Japanese coast to drop
incendiaries on Tokyo and flak lights up into a million
stars, a boy waist-gunner asking, “Billy, how we going
to get through that and ever be the same?” They didn’t
and weren’t, Dad waking screaming in our little house
on lost mission he never landed from although tonight
the wooly sky veils constellations, Mars flashes sharply
as a rescue plane’s beacon light. Everywhere a ghostly
ash drifts and rains on cars and lawns 200 miles away,
Sierras’ smoking pyres flowing westward to shrouded
Pacific, infernos at Big Sur and Bonny Doon, a lovely
Scottish river the poet Robert Burns sang of mourning
a false love. What dirge can I sing or dance to with my
sadness now? Many beautiful things you love are dying
and won’t be coming back. If there’s a hell 1,000 times
worse than here it doesn’t matter much anymore, devils
no longer quite terrify. Even demons can’t spark a coal’s
white dust but only rub it harder into your closed eyes.


Nels Hanson grew up on a small raisin and tree fruit farm near the town of Selma in the San Joaquin Valley of California, earned degrees from U.C. Santa Cruz and the U of Montana, 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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