shut and scent of cigarette and coffee,
bacon and eggs frying seeped out to say
Charles was there. Sometimes the woman
keeping us would step out, door closed
quick behind her. Charles is here. You kids
go outside to play. And later the hooked
door was open, air bright again, window
lifted to late breeze. Is Charles still here?
No, Charles isn’t here. Charles went away?
Yes, he’s gone. Where to? Where he goes.
Where’s that? I don’t know where Charles
stays. Will he come back again? I don’t
know. Maybe. Tonight? No. Tomorrow?
I don’t know when. We never saw Charles’
face, just high-topped shoe, door closing,
hand on plastic tablecloth, stained fingers
holding cigarette. Maybe we passed him
between her fenced yard and park swing
and slide before our mother came for us.
We never knew if Charles walked past at
Paul’s corner grocery store, or March day
along our narrow country road we waited
for the bus more yellow than morning sun.
The man didn’t break stride or hesitate,
dropping a ringing Prince Albert tin on
asphalt – empty can I kept when he was
gone – one hand rolling last smoke, with
thumbnail striking wooden match, tossing
live flame over shoulder, never turning to
notice us. Charles, with oiled laced boots,
neat pipe of bedroll across his back, olive
felt hat, wide brim? We watched him go
into a white distance until one second he
dissolved, invisible as God. On summer
early evenings I imagined Charles cross
through walnut’s shade, climb back steps,
pause as if to whisper a secret, now think
better, not tapping at the dark screen door.
Nels Hanson’s fiction received the San Francisco
Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award, Pushcart
Prize nominations in 2010, 12, and 2014, and has
appeared in Antioch Review, Black Warrior
Review, Southeast Review and other journals.
Poems appeared in Word Riot, Oklahoma
Review, Pavilion, and other magazines, and
are in press at Pacific Review, Carnival,
Sharkpack Review Annual, NonBinary
Review, The Straddler, Dark Matter
Review, and The Mad Hatter's Review.
Poems in Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine
and Citron Review have been nominated for
2014 Pushcart Prizes.