Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Poem by Nels Hanson

Finding the Cave

An October day, following a trail of broken
arrowheads, I stumbled on the entrance
to a cave. Cap was skittish, maybe scenting
a rattler. I grabbed my flashlight and pistol

from the saddlebag and squeezed in past
fallen rocks blocking the door, then spooked
nearly fired a wild shot, hearing my own
breath rebound off the walls. In the dusty

beam, two skeletons of different size embraced
like lovers on the stone floor. The bear’s teeth
and claws bit and raked the white shoulder
blade. The woman wore a ripped deerskin

blouse, long skirt and moccasins. A medicine
pouch lay beside her. The tall willow basket
with leather straps had been torn from her back
but her bare fingers held an obsidian knife

between the bear’s ribs. The Paiute woman
gathering firewood took shelter from the sky
and Thunderbird, the sudden lightning storm,
found the dry cave where the grizzly slept

lightly. I could hear a roar and the echo
of her cries as the two stumbled in the dark
room, holding each other in the terrible dance
that would end only when they lay quietly

face to face. Their white skulls didn’t turn
from the light, the hollow sockets didn’t stare.
The furious sounds of the secret battle
had changed to silence, joined the weatherless

breathing of rock. They were part of the stone
hymn, the faint mineral singing that was time
itself. The bones seemed holy, blessed by granite
centuries, and years ago I left them undisturbed.

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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