Monday, May 27, 2013

Two Poems by Nels Hanson

Black Elk Speaks

After Little Big Horn, the last wild buffalo
slaughtered and Crazy Horse murdered in jail
with a bayonet still Black Elk remains loyal
to his boyhood vision of a dying tree blooming
in the hoop at the center of the world. To save
the sick tree, to lead his people from the selfish
black road back to the red he joins Bill Cody’s
Wild West Show, sure the conquering whites
have wisdom for mending the tribe’s broken
circle before he learns they don’t care for
each other or animals. In a storm the sea-sick
Indians dressed for dying sing their death songs,
waiting to drop off the end of the water while
the crew throw dead buffalo and horses from
the ocean liner. At her Jubilee, Queen Victoria
tells Black Elk his people are the most beautiful
in the world. She wouldn’t make them perform
in the show if they were hers. In Paris in Western
clothes, his long hair only marking him an Indian,
he collapses at breakfast. Three days his French
girlfriend and her parents hardly hear his heart
as he rides a cloud across the Atlantic and sees
Lakota Sioux gathered in one camp, his parents
outside their teepee, fire and his mother cooking
but the cloud is too high and he’s afraid to jump.
Over a town a turning house rises and touches
the cloud and takes him down, spinning, until
he hears the French girl talking and in black
a doctor stands by his bed. Buffalo Bill who
killed ten thousand buffalo buys Black Elk a
ticket to America and he returns to Pine Ridge.
All the Lakota are there because they’ve sold
more land to the whites. His parents’ teepee is
in the place he saw it in his vision: His mother
says one night she dreamed he came to visit
on a cloud but couldn’t stay. Three years he’d
been away trying to learn to fix the fractured
ring but more sadness came. After Wovoka’s
Ghost Dance and the buffalo and dead didn’t
rise in the spring when the new grass was tall
and the hopeless fighting at Wounded Knee
Black Elk knew he had failed. On the closed
book’s cover a Medicine Man wore a red wool
blanket, white-tipped eagle feathers and wide
elk horns. Maybe his story he told the professor
was the dream’s finished work, Black Elk never
knew Black Elk Speaks made the mending hoop
whose torn braid was still weaving back together
in a leather web that held the Earth from falling
apart. I watched the silver Columbia’s Clark Fork
pass my window, Buck Owens on the radio—You
don’t know me but you don’t like me—as the wide
river flowed away under the white half-moon
across Montana to Idaho and Oregon and Hawaii’s
dark Pacific beyond the hard streets of Bakersfield.

When I Lost My Hearing

It was before the War. I was foreman
of a sheep ranch up by Sleeping Child
Lake. We were riding from one camp
to the other, out in the open. It started
to storm. We could see strikes off to
the north by the lake. The owner’s boy
was there. He was 17, a nice kid named
Jerry, not uppity or spoiled. He turned
and said, “Ralph, you think we should
hurry?’ “I think so,” I said. “Let’s get
to camp.” I’d no more said it than there
was a flash and boom. Before we touched
spurs to the horses the bolt hit between
us. It killed Jerry dead. Just like that.
Seventeen years old. And both horses.
It turned his hair white. He looked like
an old man with a child’s face. At first
I wasn’t sure it was Jerry. I didn’t know
what had happened. Everything smelled
of sulfur and burnt hair. I was blinded.
For ten minutes I couldn’t see or hear.
My ears roared like a train was coming
and I couldn’t move off the tracks. I dug
with my knife to get my right leg from
under the horse. I limped seven miles
to a house with a cottonwood. A boy
about six was playing in the yard with
a black and white pup. I said, “Is your
daddy home?” “No, he isn’t home.”
“Well is your momma home?” He said
she was out back washing clothes. I
could barely hear him. “Run and get her.
Tell her something awful’s happened.”
I didn’t hear anything for a year, just
a steady hum like wind across fence
wire, saying things. It nearly drove me
nuts. Mornings my wife would come
find me and touch my shoulder for
breakfast. It was pretty hard on her.
A Monday in March she forgot and
called my name. It was loud as reveille
in the army. I ran to the kitchen and she
screamed for joy so both my ears hurt.
After that my hearing was fairly good.

Nels Hanson 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," in Ruminate Magazine, was  nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize, and "No One Can Find Us," in  Ray's Road Review, has been nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prizes.  Poems have appeared in Poetry Porch, Atticus Review, Red Booth  Review, Meadowlands Review, Emerge Literary Review, Shot Glass,  Language and Culture, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Writer's  Ink, Jellyfish Whispers, and other magazines.

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