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Issue 18

Poetry » Nels Hanson »


The Birds

Birds I can’t see whose beating
wings I hear all night are circling
our town again but by morning

will disappear, telephone wires
and trees all vacant roosts where
so many birds might rest if flocks

do travel vast miles and each day
return to where they came from,
some far place they must sleep

in light before they wake at dusk.
Are they owls, nighthawks, night
herons, or changed crows, robins,

starlings transformed nocturnal?
I never see one, just hear rushing
of round wind and peeking from

a window an absence, something
dark flying through dark, winged
skeleton with no white bones. Do

they visit your town or only ours?
If so what have we done? What do
they want, what starkest judgment

do avenging angels deliver in wide
ovals until sunup when sky is bare
and on empty streets no dropping,

single fallen feather to let us know
what they’re like, why they arrive
at whose orders? I know that ravens

can talk and if they’re ravens and if
somehow we capture one maybe it
will tell us what we have to fear or

what crowded trouble we escaped,
who saved us for what worthiness,
a good so secret and camouflaged?


I found the murderer’s gun before
the murderer could steal it from
his neighbor and murder a man

up the street. I broke in last night
and took it far from there, buried
the black revolver in a hole I dug

on a hill miles away, hiding place
more like a grave for a gun no one
will ever find or visit. The dying

man who didn’t grasp his chest
and fall to his lawn flooding with
his own blood got in his car and

drove to work. A failed murderer
slept off his drunk, called in sick
and went fishing in the river as

detectives study new crime scene.
I leave no evidence, fingerprints
or DNA and things remain okay

for now until my neighbor buys
another I’ll have to steal to stop
another murder no one will ever

understand for years until the hill
is taller than the Leaning Tower
of Pisa. I know these things. One

murdered man I used to know in
life tells me in dreams the blood
he sees flow blue before it’s red.

Sea World

What is water once was land
before oceans’ one continent
and animals at home in saline
explored the flooded kingdom
of encrusting cities and farms,
high-rise apartments housing
sharks, the lobster in a fallen
elevator, mailboxes new dens
for wary electric eels, all red
flags folded down. The cruise
ships filled with rescued loam
culture vegetables and peach,
plum and apple saplings next
drifting generation may taste
by solitary palms of coconuts
if Everest and K-2 don’t slice
triple hulls. On abysmal floor
in derelict vaults drowse gold
ingots and doubloons stamped
with famous profiles no living
eye recalls or deep subs reach.
Rains keep drumming a single
tune on a birdless blue terrain
unbroken by rainbow’s double
halo for Noah’s sacred Ararat
except in dreams of a sinking
world on stilts where a tower
dweller savors scarlet pippins
each day in heavenly Atlantis.