November 5, 2015

Four Poems By Nels Hanson: "Sanctuary", "Prayer", "Haven", "The Stone"

Nels Hanson grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley and has worked as a farmer, teacher and writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 12, and 2014. Poems appeared in Word Riot, Oklahoma Review, Pacific Review and other magazines and received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.

Yes, it’s frigid here and always
white, sole color summer’s blue
of sky and sea, yellow sun, full

moon risen deepest orange then
lemon before blanched pearl as
bones of whales, winter’s stars

sparking red, gold, green, sapphire,
flaring Aurora Borealis, emerald
Northern Lights at Southern Pole.

On Earth’s final continent no man
or woman is ever murdered, human
hot blood spilled a frozen cardinal

on snow’s pure absence half–dusk
shades violet. Easily you discover
black fallen ashy meteors, the ice

miles thick to solid ground, surface
untouched, pristine, new as butcher
paper. At world’s end this freezing

land offers sanctuary. In parka, fur-
lined boots and hoods, night-black
goggles lives only love that helps

or dies. Howling blasts cry “Cain!”
as Abel hibernates in down-filled
bag, soft music the soothing breath

of others, brother, sister, huddled
bears in a cave, gloves like paws
that often touch toward morning. 


The Master said, “Pray,”
and so I hurried to the river
and watched ten thousand
blue ripples walk patiently

but the water left me and
I couldn’t flow to the sea.
“Pray,” the Master said
again and I moved among

rows of corn, up and down,
past the ears like rockets
in their green coats, tassels
blowing like yellow hair

as poets write, but the wind
didn’t lift my feet anchored
to the furrow. “Pray again,”
the Master said and a long

night Venus and then early
stars lit up and constellations
appeared, hero, heroine and
beast but my heart couldn’t

climb and tread the Milky
Way. Now I knew what my
Master would say and built
a fire and saw the logs burn

into smoke rising so high
but I couldn’t rise and cold
and trembling envied dying
coals. Morning the Master’s

door was open but the house
stood vacant as an empty jar.
On the bare table lay bread,
wine and when I sat to slake

thirst and hunger at the sunlit
window one, two, now many
ruby-throated hummingbirds
drank the red and coral roses.


Do you want water, food?
Take this glass, this plate,
this chair in the elm’s cool
shade. Music? I can’t sing

but if we whisper like leaves
in the tree’s high branches
birds begin, this darkness
streams with golden light.

 The Stone
Upstream the one they called
The Baptist immersed a man
in white and as his dark hair
emerged I saw a white dove
descend and heard the crowd
along the bank murmuring, saw
their heads bow and stared at
my feet washed by the Jordan
where veins of lit gold flashed
like dust above a round pebble
glowing, fading dull again as
I drew it out. I kept the rock
washed by water that touched
his face and held it in my open
hand when well afterward he
rode a donkey over a palm’s
bed of fronds, on the mountain
stood and spoke to a multitude,
same far figure I’d seen risen
from the river as wings came
down and hovered and again I
looked away, found my stone
like ones he’d made the raving
men put down. I stayed home
when he stumbled with a cross
to Place of the Skull, heard later
lightning and the rain, blinked
as sky turned night in day and
couldn’t rest, still remembering
the dove as I wondered where
it might have flown and heard
a lone dove calling in the dark.
Sunday when the rumor spread
the tall door of stone had rolled
aside and the woman known as
Mary Magdalen met him and in
the garden they spoke I gripped
my rock now weighing heavier
but grown no larger and hurried,
carried it home to the same river
and set it down into pure water
passing and always holding arc
of his closed eyes, angle of his
strong gentle cheek. I see once
more the unforgetting stream turn
golden as the sunlit ripples cross
his stone beyond unsandled feet.

(The Stone first appeared in River Poets Journal)
~Nels Hanson

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