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Nels Hanson

NelsNels Hanson grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California, graduated from UC 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.


Where did they go, those mile-long
freight trains of childhood on tracks
cutting the dusty farm town in half, half
white, half brown, rich, poor, each hobo
king of his own flatcar, brave faces profiled
in wind from speed, blue from storybooks,
the young prince disowned and growing
older now on the dangerous journey to find
the princess. Box cars naked of graffiti
bore chalk numbers, letters only, strange
runes for routing cargoes somewhere
else and far where money waited to buy
their wares. Great Northern’s proud rocky
mountain goat in silhouette upon its lone
peak, Union Pacific and Cotton Road
summoning Blue and Gray, Wabash
Cannonball with its song tipsy Dizzy Dean
crooned at seventh-inning stretch, B & O –
Baltimore and Ohio – that brought a smile,
Santa Fe, Rock Island Line’s stone citadel
washed by ocean waves, Rio Grande crossing
the wide muddy river as years later Grateful
Dead would sing . . . Trains never stopped
but passed at 60 in a blur. When red lights
quit flashing there is only the red caboose
disappearing with its red beacon a backward
headlight as your father’s pickup lurches
across raised iron rails like arms that surely
in some faint distance well beyond your
sight finally meet at their destination.

Dream Places

Why these years the same six
or seven landscapes recurring
in sleep, dreams’ own geometry
arranging map where familiar

but unknown locations reappear,
unchanged like photographs still
alive in some darkroom’s red-lit
bath? A different Hanford, empty

1930s’ high school white locker
room before the game, phantom
packing house for fresh stone
fruit with fence and scale, steak

house, vast department store,
escalators and mezzanines . . .
Turn west on tangled road you
drive through vineyards until

knock at a blue door. Surprise,
grammar school buddy Lewis
King greets you, happy again
after fatal heart attack on way

to card game. From flat Valley
land unnoticed sandstone peaks
stand up one mile away, orange
at sunset, cast shadows leading

you to bare granite mountain first
visited in child’s deep slumber,
maybe above Tahoe. The hidden
neighborhood in Selma on a side

street, strange cliffs overlooking
new river, gorge below Reedley
a bamboo forest? In Colorado –
Boulder? – your rent is tending

nearby yards you must weed
and water but forget. Other
terrains and half-plots hinting
vague unease remain locked

symbols that won’t or can’t
reveal themselves, why I keep
arriving, as if sure this time I’ll
recognize the place and story.

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