Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Poem by Nels Hanson

Mother of Water Lands


Under the lake it is always summer
there, the river and green meadows
full of game and the aspen trees
never turn in fall, it never snows,
the river never freezes. The ancestors
grow young again, no one gets sick
or fights. They live almost happily
in the village of teepees painted with
orange suns and yellow moons
where everything is perfect, except
for one sadness. A child sleeps and
won’t wake up. He groans and cries
out and they can’t do anything to
rouse him from his bad dream.
They watch over him, they sing
to him and fan his face with ferns
and eagle feathers, but nothing works
to stop his nightmare. He dreams
the things we all do here, the lake
his green clear eye that never sleeps.


One day when things are better
in our world the dreaming child
will open his eyes— The wind blows,
the sky turns black, full of clouds.
Birds call and circle above the green
water. Then a basket rises on the lake
and floats to shore with a baby
dressed in clean deerskin. He’ll bring
a rattle of buffalo horn and wear
a necklace of blue stones. An Indian
woman without a husband or child
will find the basket. She’ll raise
the boy who won’t learn to speak,
but when you look into his eyes
you remember and know who he is,
the one forced to watch us and cry.


All the time many things are rising
from the lake, songs and spells
carved on antler and bone, medicines,
special roots that don’t grow here,
fresh berries wrapped in green grass
stalks sweeter than grass our horses
eat. Elk pemmican and smoked
salmon in baskets woven so the water
can’t soak through. The child and his
mother find them on the shore and take
them home until their house is full
of good medicine the Old People
send. All the deer come and the bears.
Owls roost on the roof, by sparrows,
mourning dove and the line of crows.


One day the Sleeping Child’s mother
is sick, so he goes alone to the lake.
He finds no medicine or food, just
a book with a bark cover and pages
made of reed. In the book is the story
of all things and all things to come.
He takes it home to his mother. She
opens the book and reads it and gets
well. The next day a young woman
brings a sick child to the house and
reads the book and the child is all
right. People from all over hear about
the book and come to the Sleeping
Child’s house to read it and be
healed. The book isn’t long, it has
only one word. Everyone learns it,
the Word spreads across the mountains,
all across the world so on everyone’s
lips and in everyone’s heart, so even
the wind knows it, and the animals
at night when they call to one another,
is the one Word and only true sound.


The Word gets louder and louder,
like a whirling wind. One day, when
everyone knows it, wherever you go
you hear it, the silent Sleeping Child
speaks. He says the Word that’s quiet
like water, but louder than thunder.
The Earth shakes, the green waters
in the lake go away, up the mountain
to Moose Lake. The green eye closes
and the door to Mother of Water
Lands opens. The two worlds
are connected, people live in the stone
city where they used to live, where
the lake used to be. The Old People
come to visit the Sleeping Child and he
returns the horn rattle and necklace
of blue rocks, then tells many things
about waking in the dream 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," which appeared in Ruminate Magazine, was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize, and "No One Can Find Us," which was published 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, and other magazines.

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