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"Still Alive"

Matthew Hansen

Grain from farms along the Highline
fills the hold of Nordic Monarch.
Madrona sheds its bark like skin and
the surface of the sea is more
sensitive than skin. Somewhere
my noble fir breathes in
a million cells of air.

My life is stored in the city,
marrow frozen for the futurity
markets, news for brokers of shade
and schedule.
                        So the sweet air
and tall trees of God's country
didn't save us after all--Dale
Speyer, what rare cancer made us
                        Cormorants dive
in fog, fly low like snakes
full of fish. This one dries
his wings on pilings at Port

I am still alive, doing fifty
on the Aurora Bridge. Cloud breaks
and the white houses of Ballard
shine, they shine.


"Matt was many things in his young twenty-three years: explorer, woodsman, historian, cowhand, conservationist, packer, poet. Whether on a train through Catalonia or on foot in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, he was both a traveler and at home. He saw things always as if for the first time and he wrote of the complexity of his seeing. Nothing is easy for a young man learning his way, but in Matt's case, the way was filled with beauty and brilliance and young crusty dignity."

~James Welch, from the Introduction to 'Clearing,' by Matthew Hansen, The Kutenai Press, Missoula 1986.

Matt died of cancer at the age of 23 on April 9, 1984

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"A Generous Friend"
written by Ripley Hugo (Matthew's mother) in honor of James Welch

In 1983 when Matt, only twenty-two, was hospitalized in Seattle, Washington, for cancer treatments, he looked out the window at the steady rain one day and said suddenly, “Mom, I haven’t done shit.” I wanted to cry out “No!” Instead, I told him he had, that he had written good poems, that maybe he could use this time to revise them and put them together as a manuscript. He seized the idea. I brought his poems to him from our home in Montana. Every day that he could, he worked on the poems and completed his manuscript. When he thought it was good enough, he said shyly that he would send it to Jim to read.

Jim read the manuscript and called back within a week. I took the phone call for Matt to say that he was in treatment that afternoon and could not come to the phone. Jim asked me to tell Matt that his poems were good, that he liked them a lot. “Tell him,” Jim said, “I think he writes like an Indian.” Matt’s spirits were lifted for the first time in months.

On one visit, Lois and Jim brought a venison steak for Matt, a gift from Montana he relished. After the first of that year, Jim came to teach a semester at the University of Washington. Out of his warm concern for Matt, Jim came to talk to Matt several times a week. In those last hard months for Matt, Jim talked about the background of the novel he was writing, Fools Crow. Jim took Matt far from the hospital works in those hours.

When the treatments were finished without good results, it was time to take Matt home. The morning we were to leave, I was delayed in traffic. I walked into Matt’s room to find Jim on his knees, tying Matt’s shoelaces for him, smiling and talking as he did.


>  Thanks to Mark Hufstetler for the reminder about Ripley's essay.

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