The Feather | Nels Hanson


I was 12, pitch-forking bailed hay
to a high rick when my dad cut loose
a bad tongue-lashing, yelled wasting feed
I’d never make a hand and better walk

to the house and ask my mother how
to wash the tub and tend her other chores.
I knew how but it was hard to hold it
in before he drove off and set me free

to cry, then sob on hands and knees
to find my breath. Dinner I couldn’t
eat ring-necked pheasant and afterward
I lay staring out my window screen

at Three Kings, the red mesa’s triple
spires that made three sandstone gallants
for a sailing ship. “Who at morning
goes on four, and two at noon, then three

at evening time?” the winged and hungry
Sphinx asked Oedipus, whose name
meant “swollen foot.” “Baby,” “Man,” then
“Old One with a Cane,” went the riddle’s

third safe answer our teacher gave, not
wrong and deadly: “Weary Savior Leans
on Trusty Stick” or “God with Seaweed
Hair Lifts Sharpened Trident.” Morning

was the same but noon I saw a shadow
race across the barnyard and heard
one shrill cry. I lifted a hand to stare
straight up at a red-tail hawk circling

the sun, now turning into blinding
light, the hawk eclipsing, becoming
sun, its wide wings etched with fiery
yellow, finger-spread pinions orange-red

flames, fanned tail a crimson half-disk.
Something fell like a piece of the sun
I thought was a gopher or week-old
rabbit but floated down, spiraled lightly

rocking back and forth and drifting
between bird’s light and shadow,
the mottled plume landing at my toe.
I touched the tan and reddish-brown

bands, feeling if the white quill’s tip
was warm. The hawk called twice
and circled as I blinked, watching its
swift shade veer across golden fallen

straw where once Roy Wells, a Cherokee
explained in Oklahoma hoop snakes
bite their tails to escape, roll away like
wheels but a hawk’s dropped feather

means good luck and yours to keep.
I cut a leather headband from a belt
and until the feather finally fell apart
I wore it in my hair and under my fear

and loneliness things somehow seemed
all right— The Hawk of the Sun knew
me, heard my thoughts and what I felt
and hoped, was greater than my father

and offered me a sign, striped feather
flown in heaven or near gold heaven, falling
with a call, the red-tail’s sacred spoken
word the silver tracer of its shooting star.

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,” 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, Jellyfish Whispers, and other magazines.

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