Friday, December 28, 2012

Two Poems by Nels Hanson

The Hole

In the ‘30s my dad forked hay and mended
fence one spring and summer with a thin hired
hand who hours on end told a thousand stories
of strange adventures, one story with a single plot.

Gregor Spadel was Bohemian and spoke his tale
in broken, perfect slang. Trapped in World
War I between Austrian and Russian lines
he had no food. To keep from starving he ate

grass and leaves, then tree bark until he learned
what wood his stomach could tolerate. One day
a German patrol came toward him and he ran
and jumped into the river, found a log and floated

to the Baltic Sea, where Danish sailors on a sealing
ship fished him out. His body was a skeleton
and they hid him in the hold, wrapped in a raw
seal skin and brought food, at first just soup, canned

milk. He never stopped and awake he waited
in the dark for more. The crew made bets
but couldn’t satisfy him and when the boat
docked in New York they rolled him tight

and carried him ashore. Years he bummed
cross-country, wandering, before he landed
at the ranch, a steady worker, good man
with cows and horses, friendly, didn’t drink

or swear, but meals he’d eat a whole pot roast
or swallow two chickens, then dig and chew
potatoes raw, pick green plums off the tree,
before a dozen eggs for breakfast, slabs

of bacon, 20 biscuits. Gregor never gained
an ounce, was strong and never sick, or missed
a Sunday’s chores, but couldn’t staunch the pain.
My father said his craving was too deep, the pangs

too keen, that he’d been too hungry to forget
and spent all his time trying to fill the hole
that wouldn’t fill. He stayed six months, until
my grandfather had to send him on. “That’s

all right, sure, no problem,” Gregor kept saying,
things had gone this way before. At the bus he
smiled and waved goodbye, holding up the sack
of pippins my father bought him for a dime.

 Baldasare Forestiere

The several architects were amazed
by the open skylights—the many
wide arches converged at impossible
angles to let the single citrus trees

grafted to lime, lemon, tangerine and
orange take the sun. The hermit Baldasare
Forestiere (“The Human Mole” the highway
billboard later named him) abandoned

the daylight world to sculpt with dynamite
and pick “The Underground Gardens.”
In Sicily his fiancée chose another. Sick
with despair he sailed to Fresno, dug

deep into the stone earth, the red hardpan,
fashioning a vast secret restaurant
with carved tables, booths and benches,
a subterranean banquet hall for men

and women to eat, dance, drink wine, talk
leisurely and undisturbed, avoiding the day’s
heat. But the labyrinth of dark galleries
and passageways was too complex, long

and twisting, the food would have grown
cold, the waiters lost their way before
hungry guests were served in the cool
earthen alcoves the color of Chianti.

Baldasare was kind to children but screamed
and fired his Winchester at adults
trespassing overhead. Maybe he’d meant
to build a great tomb where his faithless

love and he would always be together, alone
they would have a truce, another chance
and endless time as her laughter echoed
down the turning halls, here, there, just

ahead and patiently he hurried past
the winter light that fell like miner’s dust
never changing with the traitorous sun
and flashing seasons of the other world.

Nels Hanson has worked as a farmer, teacher, and contract writer/
editor. He graduated from UC Santa Cruz and the U of Montana and 
his fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan 
Award. His stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, 
Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other 
journals. "Now the River's in You," a 2010 story which appeared in 
Ruminate Magazine, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and "No One 
Can Find Us," which was published in Ray's Road Review, has been 
nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prizes.

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