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Going to See Travis by Nels Hanson

At the dying cottonwood with a bleached-out

rag, an inner tube hanging from a limb, I pulled

off the gravel, desperate for a friend, following

the empty creek curving back and forth through

steeper hills under dry mountains. By the sand

stream grew greenery, real bushes whose roots

drank groundwater and lived off more than light

snow and desert rain. I rounded the second bend

and the branches leaned over toward the hillside,

buckeye and long leafy willow boughs smelling

of menthol brushing the car. Now the pot-holed

stony dirt was the creek where spring snowmelt

overflowed the bank. Something brown darted

in a blur through low shade as a grouse whirred

up, flashing pale underwings. I kept cranking

the wheel, dodging deep hollows, three times

tensed and hearing the Caddie scrape bottom

so I worried I’d torn the pan. I craned my neck,

squinting at a cliff, blue rock sheets like smooth

jade flashing in the sun, agate Indians carved to

suns and moons. The road leveled, a tight arroyo

opened in range again but better feed, 1,000

feet higher. The running creek and aspen veered

north across the narrow valley to Jeffrey pines

standing on ridges angled vertical. I’d driven

20 miles off the interstate, thirsty and worried

there were two cottonwoods, a kid or joker

had switched the rag and I’d turned too quick.

Failed streams crisscrossed the broken land,

same country spread for 10,000 acres and then

the way made the long swing at the soft-looking

bluff  I’d climbed eagerly as a boy for chipped

obsidian arrowheads and below all emerald and

summer lush from the underground river waited

the place I’d known before the trouble started,

whiskey and fame, lust but no love, and I forgot

I was Travis Jackson and the ranch was home.

Nels Hanson has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other journals, and  stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2010 and 2012. Poems have appeared in Poetry  Porch, Atticus Review, Red Booth Review, Meadowlands Review, Emerge Literary Review,  Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine,  and other magazines, and are in press at Oklahoma Review, Paradise Review, Hoot & Hare Review, Citron Review, and Poetry Porch.