First Night in Missoula


July 1, 2013 by The Citron Review

By Nels Hanson

I heard the sudden whistle, then two
more and a train with slanting eye
scanning the tracks barreled past
across the river, the engine’s window
pale empty yellow. Closed freight
cars and flat cars of shadowed new
threshers caught flashing streaks
of moonlight as the diesel shot 70
toward North Dakota wheatfields.
The head-end of the Murphy bed
was recessed like a Pullman’s berth.
I slept and had the dream about
“Three Kings,” one sailing ship
the red rock at the ranch turned
into, three sandstone pillars with
two names, one good, one bad,
changing, each with a different
captain. I sat up, not knowing who
I was or where, what town or year,
just dark. A soft wavering played
along the ceiling, moon reflected
off some moving water and I
recalled Missoula, the Clark
Fork of the Columbia, named for
the older, more stable partner
who let settlers drive Indians off
their land. Before he failed to drown
in the Mississippi and shot himself
at the tavern on the riverbank,
Meriwether was the favorite of
Jefferson, I’d read that once. Under
the white half moon the river ran
all night due west across Montana,
Idaho to The Dalles, the Oregon Trail’s
end, out to the Pacific. I lay back, closed
my eyes and watched black stacks
of sails race silver waves, then gripped
the railing tight. Now “Crucifixion
Rock” cast the Yankee clipper’s three-
masted shadow and turning I saw wide
hat and greatcoat, one boot and then
the ivory leg of Ahab at the wheel.


Nels Hanson’s fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and two Pushcart Prize nominations. Stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other journals. Poems are in press at The Oklahoma Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Poetry Porch, The Ilanot Review, Drunk Monkeys, and The Hoot & Hare Review.

One thought on “First Night in Missoula

  1. […] First Night in Missoula by Nels Hanson […]

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