Birds, Caves, Time by Nels Hanson • Empty Mirror

credit: Viktor Dukov / Unsplashcredit: Viktor Dukov / Unsplash


To shake one’s head, to murmur “I don’t know,” implies a certain faith, thisevening’s swerving, changing cloud of birds above the failing farm reminds me.

We didn’t invent our bones or gravity, an idea that, with other reflections, comes to mind as I watch the flock as fluid as quick water rippled by competing winds.”

The lightning flash through closed lids before the thunder cracks enters the eyes that like the ears have no doors.

Every child knows the bridge across a river is the way to another world, that each stairway leads to heaven, a treasure waits behind all locked doors and the new sunrise is the first sunrise and the sundown the last night so children yearn for home, for Venus the only star.

Since we killed all the bees with pesticide, in springtime the warming buds still open to white blossoms but in silence among green leaves the tiny plums turn yellow and fall with their stems until the fertile ground is deep with a dry rain nothing can drink.

The wolves in wolves’ clothing encircling each November field baa with the howls of wolves and squirrels go underground, bluebird and grosbeak start south with white cumulus racing after them. The dying grass shrugs and lies down. Even the sheep grow weary and hurry to be eaten.

As the world grows darker an old hope returns, a lost echo from a locked chamber of the heart, the brain’s forgotten curl. Something is still coming for us, from far off through a million starry years, across thirsty deserts of mute space. Unlike the trillion dead who waited in vain only we were chosen to see and weep for the rescue arriving at last right on time.

The forming thought like the murmuration of winter birds threatens to dissolve into single pairs of wings aiming at different waiting stars, dips, shears sideways, now oblique and gone before rising, bursting from naked air into a thunderhead thinning to black lightning flashing for the darkening blue gum grove where two thousand blackbirds disappear to settle and cry beside the waking owl.

The Caves of Man

Last week on the Internet I read the Neanderthals were first to paint murals underground and fashioned jewelry from decorated shells 115,000 years ago, 20,000 years until Homo sapiens with faces like ours arrived in Spain from Africa, searchers discovered recently in a deep cave, the Cueva de Avinoes.
Another in France contains white ritual circles built of stalagmites and stalactites, 400 of them as if the makers sensed the presence of gods who watched and cared, especially for their dead.

Did lost prayers go unanswered, or acolytes wake in a heaven reserved for our discarded relatives, one day by and by we’ll see again? After all, they intermarried with our quicker lineage that wiped them out.
The ones called “Hobbits,” just three feet tall, species’ name from Flores Island in Indonesia, disappeared over 50,000 years before Neanderthals who occasionally devoured their enemies and left teeth marks on the bones.

In a cavern in South Africa, Homo naledi, a trace of man with a smaller cavity for brain and pronounced ridged brow, lived two million years ago. Those skeletons carefully arranged in the cave system called Rising Star suggest kind love for the deceased, fire for light, torches winding toward that last room in search of something divine as scientists with spotlights seek their remains, who we are or might have been.

A Lost Draft

Some rainy Saturday you might wander a used Business Relationships store and from a highest shelf remove a dusty volume that holds a yellowed handwritten page for a book that never was, the fragile paper falling to the unswept floor:

We wanted so terribly to elude the evil we failed to consider clearly our plans but then the task was so complicated Einstein would have worried his brow until it bled.

At three a.m. we finished, offered a prayer in gratitude. Exhausted we admired the great accomplishment: labyrinth of wires and levers, electrodes and resistors, quantum battery, the dial with green arrow to show the year, two modeled chairs designed for the lengthy voyage.

This morning a hard question – Back or Onward?

What different Earth, free of slaves and torture, a city on fire, saplings a farmer lays out before they’re planted?

What yesterday, which century with blood so deep we need a raft?

No, future was the only way, but now a new dilemma as our time machine warmed up:

How far is safe from the whirlpool spinning endlessly, turned by a vacuum of an ancient wreck?

A month at speed of light?

Choose the old calamity or unfamiliar planet where human faces have evolved,

a primitive might make a specimen for specialists to analyze, our home the zoo or laboratory?

At last, we agree we’ll travel in reverse, but not too distantly, a fondest season by the autumn blue lake, wading mild water hand-in-hand before all was lost again, content those late afternoons in October still amber before first snow.

About Nels Hanson

Nels Hanson’s fiction has received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and Pushcart nominations in four separate years. His poems received a 2014 Pushcart nomination, Sharkpack Review’s 2014 Prospero Prize, and 2015 and 2016 Best of the Net nominations.

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