On the Road
One morning lifting his razor to shave
he saw the mirror was blank and waved
but no hand waved back. On a hunch
he pulled a book from the shelf and sure
enough pages stared unmarked as snow.
He hurried to the bluest lake to find his
reflection and staring deep discovered
only pebbles. He whirled, old faithless
shadow gone, just blonde beach, grains
of sand. Walking city streets he smiled,
nodded to passersby but no one noticed.
When he reached to touch a stranger’s
arm his palm pushed like a stone through
water. In April after the phone rang once
he said, “Hello?” and a voice kept asking
“Hello? Is anybody there?” Not hungry
or thirsty now, even for the pure taste of
rain, he lay down, heard an odd key turn
in the lock. Police, then realtors toured
the house. Without a word he watched
them pass his outstretched feet. His car
started and he drove until red lights and
urgent siren stopped him, at the window
an angry officer searching for the absent
driver. Nine years ago he bought a grave
and victim of a sleeper’s death, forgetful
ghost, on foot he headed for the cemetery.
His slab of lawn grew unbothered green,
no polished granite nameplate. Vagrant
phantom, anchor lost to sepulcher, failed
risen spirit not good enough for paradise,
too bland for hell, or just misplaced? At
sixes, sevens to understand, he wanders
country roads, beyond the county, state,
all across America, in hopes some future
hour perhaps he’ll meet a living kindred
soul, a man, woman, child, bird, beast or
flower, maybe you, who turned invisible
as desert air and remained and knows it.
I agree to go there but the angry ER
doctor says, “Don’t waste my time!
Calm down and fly right!” I drive by
the cemetery and my parents’ ghosts
complain, “From the first you were
a problem. Can’t you stop?” I swerve
at a church and a sleepy pastor urges
me to have faith and trust God will
wash my many sins away. Years ago
a professor wrote in red, “What you
say adds up to nothing. You should
read more and think less.” Then I sat
by the blue Kings River passing south
of Kingsburg, on the bank listening to
the water and finally the water spoke:
“If you keep flowing you reach the sea
you came from.” What was wrong with
me was right with me I thought at dusk
and thanked the silver river. I learned
for certain there were no strangers, only
a single Kings, multiform, every atom
awake, oak, sycamore, night heron, owl,
next second Venus, first stars on time,
two meteors, willow leaf, the fingernail
yellow moon. That was earlier, before
this recent mix of troubles, like loose
things spilling from a box or patient
silent eager horses racing willy-nilly
for an unlatched door. Alone, afraid,
I don’t go home but start west toward
an island where the Kings forks seven
miles, to ask the parting and returning
river if its story is still my own again.
Last night all the bronze equestrians fell to the ground.
From cities to open grasslands galloped bronze horses.
At world’s end Vishnu will appear, a horse in the sky.
Say farewell as Earth is touched by hoof of that horse.
Two kings wept together as the hooved king lay dying.
Alexander the Great loved Bucephalus, King of Horses.
“Silver!” the masked Lone Ranger called to his stallion.
Like silver bullet or Tell’s arrow raced the white horse.
Crazy Horse tied a black stone behind his mount’s ear.
At Little Big Horn they were invisible, warrior, horse.
Indians hunted on foot until Spanish horses broke free.
No cruel bridle, sharp spur for any child of those horses.
Blue horses of Franz Marc lived in Eden before Adam.
For their kindness bits and saddles we gave the horses.
As a boy with plums my father tamed the wildest roan.
In rodeos no cowboys mastered that strawberry horse.
My grandfather drove 12-horse teams to clear sage land.
The God of Horses remembers the names of lost horses.
I recall the two plow horses at the trough in their corral.
Tractors came, only a shadow was drawn by each horse.
Dylan Thomas died after drinks at White Horse Tavern.
Onto the fields of praise walked his spellbound horses.
Nietzsche went mad, cried, hugged the old horse’s neck.
Worn out, a slave hitched to the dray, he was that horse.
Ulysses and his raiders hid inside the huge wooden toy.
Wheel at hoof, ropes for reins, rolled the Trojan Horse.
Ludovico of Milan asked Leonardo for a giant stallion.
For fun French troops shot the clay model of the horse.
In a stall the groomed Arabian stands ready for its rider.
The awaited 12th Caliph, when will he claim his horse?
Jesus rode a donkey over palm fronds on Palm Sunday.
His disciples met at the house by a tethered chalk horse.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all have a name:
War, Famine, Plague, Death. No names for their horses.
Jung writes dream horses symbolize unconscious instinct.
John’s Book of Revelation warns, “Behold a pale horse.”
On a merry-go-round all children pick a favorite charger.
Perhaps the life we choose is that rising and falling horse.
I like the passive, sleepy grass eaters, wombat, capybara.
Or dugong, the “sea cow,” the panda who likes bamboo.
My favorites are heavy-lidded, those hard to stay awake.
Their thoughts aren’t crowded: grass, seaweed, bamboo.
I was drunk in Greece a night a hedgehog let me pet him.
His spiny fur was soft silk, not sharp splinters of bamboo.
A hedgehog is omnivorous, tastes grubs as well as roots.
Buried network like spider webs makes feet for bamboo.
Brows of my animals lift and fall slowly with their jaws.
Their eyes don’t wander for Latin names of the bamboo.
In the Amazon the tree sloth climbs as leisurely as grass.
In a race it loses to the garden snail, caterpillar, bamboo.
The ones I love walk as if sleeping, walking in a dream.
To them Earth appears strange as hollow ribbed bamboo.
Creatures I cherish wake in heaven and drowse on Earth.
Without complaint, all seem calm as sections of bamboo.
In fourth grade from a book we sang the capybara song.
A song about to suddenly begin is in the word “bamboo”.
My animals’ gaze is so kind but far, through telescopes.
They view us distantly, down the long flutes of bamboo.
Author Nels Hanson grew up on a small farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California and has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in 2010, 12, and 2014. Poems appeared in Word Riot, Oklahoma Review, Pacific Review and other magazines and received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.
This is Hanson's first appearance in Offcourse.