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Nels Hanson


Drunk on wine or poetry
Li Po embraced the white
moon’s reflection in water
and drowned. Tu Fu grew
sadder, a bird’s lament at
dusk truer than its song at
morning. Han Shan’s hair
on Cold Mountain turned to
snow, his bones immortal
stone. Hear the echo but not
the sound, hammer’s head,
oak shaft floating dust, iron
anvil shattered thorns where
first men taken from the forge
were beaten quick, shaped
red until fading blue, cooling
now in the steaming ocean.

The Current

A bannister’s flashing slats, spokes
of a racing wagon wheel, the years
blur without names but numbers

I can’t recall, stipples in a stream
that carries me past vague figures
along new banks, willows, white

house rising, receding into shade,
heron, gold poppy, plum in bloom
all nodding goodbye, disappearing

instant they appear, their birth and
leaving indistinguishable as sight
alters to this strange remembering,

requiem for watched and watcher,
now moving blue river blown grass
and green land flowing to the sea.

The Brown House

Many years ago when we left
the farm for reasons too hard
to share my mother called with
news something happened to

the three-room house where
one scorching summer I laid
a floor of ancient Arkansas red
oak my father bought cheap,

lumber stored 20 years under
a Baptist church in Fresno, new
floor the price for our moving
in. I asked if the cottage burned,

not asking, “Like my life?” No,
the water heater the neighbor
installed sprung a leak, flooded
sand-dry tongue-and-groove I’d

jacked into place, curved slat by
slat, hammered with special nails
that would never bend, not long
before the raisin price collapsed,

family trouble came fast and we
moved on, moved again. A year
ago a brother rang to ask where
the septic tank was buried, a few

months later phoned one night
late to say the house was gone, he
thought I’d want to know – flamed
to white ashes from quick fire.

Maybe hungry attic rats gnawed
the insulation, bare frayed wire
threw a spark or a ghost of us we’d
left behind who wouldn’t leave

that Spring and lived on without
us until one night in a dream its blue
fire shot a flaming arrow to torch
the driest rafter of its loneliness.


Svensk! I see the name
and instantly an old tune
rises in the blood, tribal,

raw hiss of meat, hot goat
milk sloshing a wood pail,
swords sharpened against

stone, longship with dragon
masthead blue and green,
red eyes and tongue rocking

the wash of calling waves.
Leif blows the raised horn,
l lift my winged helmet, lay

down my axe Keen Edge to
kneel, pray to Odin, then to
Weird and rise to take ship.


Herodotus the Greek historian reported
the Pharaoh Amasis believed his Greek
ally Polycrates too lucky in war and wealth
and urged him to throw away his most

valuable possession. The Tyrant of Samos
agreed and cast a jeweled ring to the waves
but when a fisherman offered a great fish
for his sovereign’s pleasure the priceless

ring was inside its stomach. Amasis broke
with the favored king, sure such fortune
couldn’t last. Though Polycrates’s own
40 ships sailed against him, Spartans and

Corinthians laid siege 40 days, invaders
failed to take his island. When Persians
invited him to Sardis he went, despite his
daughter’s dream: “I saw you hanging high

in air, washed by Zeus, anointed by Helios.”
So he was, first impaled, then crucified in
death. Cold rain soaked him until the sun
shone and warmed him dry as desert sand.

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