Charles • Nels Hanson

Sometimes the swinging kitchen door
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.