Sunday, December 16, 2012

Two Poems by Nels Hanson

The Green Valley

I sat gazing at the wallpaper, white
farmhouse, red barn and silo and down
the path the red mill where the blue stream
turned the brown wheel, 20 paddles wet

and dripping. One night I dreamed my father
lived alone there, pouring sacks of gold
kernels as the round stone turned on the grinding
floor. I couldn’t see him clearly—he wore

a bandanna across his face in the room
filled with flour dust. Forty years ago
on the south bank of the Kings River
Aaron Winters built a great wooden

wheel, 30-feet across, with hinges, sand
bags, traps. People came to watch, it ran
for three weeks—someone said if it kept
spinning the War would end, until it began

to slow and finally stopped, its motion not
perpetual. The mill and farm and hill
of wheat made a world repeated 50 times,
each blue sky balanced by a yellow

sun and two clouds. A door slammed
and for a second I thought it was the white
door to all the wallpaper houses. I looked
over at the framed picture of the remuda

clipped from a magazine. The grass grew
up to their knees. Their heads were bent
down as they grazed the lush stems. Last
September 10th I counted the horses

as I listened to the second storm ruining
the raisins, not wanting to look out
at the rain like black bars. There’d been
two hurricanes, Mexican from Baja, Belinda

and Charles, the emergency weather
station blaring on and off with its red light
flashing, the forecast a certain inch and
a half, no wind, high pressure backed

up from Reno to Kansas. And three
days later the grapes blew up into frog
bellies, the moldy stems turned canary
yellow, before the fruit went dull black

with botritis. The raisins stuck to the paper
trays, good only for cheap brandy or wood
alcohol, $50 a ton. There were 53 horses.
Had anyone else ever counted them?

I had given them names. Under the pine
tree, shadows on their backs, Smoke
and Blue and Rusty browsed. How sweet
the grass was! How green was my valley!

Before Harvest

While I cooked the light had changed, the lawn
chairs’ shadows thrown like scaffolding across
the drive. The Hollywood plum was darkening,
red-purplish leaves turning bluer and suspended
from the limb the dinner gong looked sooty,
a burned overturned plate. The knife’s rasp
against the grinder had stopped and I stepped
onto the porch where no vine leaf rustled, no
crow or top-knotted quail called. My husband’s
faded denim shone burnished gold as he stood
by the great yellow wheel. The tandem disc
with rows of round blades made a dozen setting
suns and the green Oliver tractor with orange
terracer waited forever past the glowing barn.
The trash barrel near the peach tree was awash
with light. Catalpa, white barn, running-horse
weathervane, Delmus, his cap a bronze helmet
with lifted visor— Everything was kindled,
revealed by the lowering sun. His shadow lay
stretched on the straw-colored dirt as he
stared at his knife, his shadow looking down
at its three-foot sword beyond the long oval
and webbed shadow of the grinder. “Dinner!”
I called suddenly at the screen and he lifted
his head, frowning toward the house, maybe
sun in his eyes. It was in the south now, crossing
the paved road, the direction the terraced earth
would lean to catch the light mornings and late
afternoons. What a simple, innocent, dangerous
thing to do, tend the vines all year until the grapes
turned yellow-sweet, pick and spread them on paper
on the ground to dry, in the wind, under the sun,
the moon and stars! From the corner of the porch
I could see one of Mrs. Watkins’ walnut trees,
the trunk and branches amber, the lit leaves
moving gently, all one way, like blown palm
fronds on a tropical isle. I turned back to the kitchen
and opened the oven. The biscuits glowed, twelve
wheat-gold days and with my glove I grasped the tin
sheet, tilting and letting them slide into the basket,
and tonged the crackling chicken from the pan.

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.