Robert Hasselblad: “The King of Montana”

The King of Montana 

1.
After a chance grass fire
burned house, barn, privy to cinders
she hurled curse upon curse at lightning,
the wide sky it leapt from,
their sorry farm that took it dead-center.

She swore to him this time she meant it.
Would wire her father for the money,
buy a one-way train ticket back to Dayton.

He told her he’d be lost
without her hand on his,
their hearts both beating
to the promise of these fields.

She laughed.
“Oh you’ll do dandy without me,
camping in this blamed tent.
Soon enough you’ll trick some other sheep-eyed gal
into thinking this three hundred twenty acres
is the Front Porch of Paradise
and you’re the King of Montana!”

2.
Two weeks later he drove her to the depot in Billings.
He guessed she’d earned
one summer with her kin
while he rebuilt.
“Okay then Sophie. Say howdy to the folks for me.
Have a good summer, and I’ll look for you–
say in Autumn, before the snow hits?

Silent, she turned back, looked at him.
Just once.

3.
Decades later, he sat with his brother
in the farm house he’d built that summer
when she went home.
Chores done, sky darkening,
their dinner dishes cleared away,
one bottle of Four Roses between them.

“Did you never hear from that Ohio lady?” the brother asked.
“I always kind of wondered about her.”

Nels glanced then at his pinewood desk,
the drawer with his dozen letters,
all from her first year away.
Sent back unopened, marked “Return to Sender.”

He had known for decades
it was never the land,
which he still worked and
which fed him well enough.
His true folly? Thinking
to haul a coal merchant’s daughter
away from privilege
out to this barren stretch of nowhere.
To live on whim and luck
and mistake these for love.

“No Olaf,” he said.
“Not hardly for a long time.”

 

Robert Hasselblad has been writing poetry since college days, half a century ago. Recently retired from forty-three years in the lumber industry, he devotes time to writing, walking, reading, and speculative napping. His poems have appeared in OntheBus:The Final Issue, Avalon Literary Review, riverbabble, and WA 129: Poets of Washington.

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