John Olson Six Prose Poems

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Words And Warts And Puppets With Cleavage

Here is what I like: scruples, scrupulous people, and puppets with cleavage.
              The smell of ash from a hearth of stone can sometimes bring a blush of nostalgia to my nose. Though it is nothing so piquant as Rebekah Del Rio singing “Llorando” on YouTube.
              I like the way calculus juggles beliefs about space and momentum in space and what might happen if I mail a bathrobe to the apocalypse. The apocalypse waiting to happen. The apocalypse around the corner. The apocalypse in the bathrobe I just sent.
              The apocalypse is raw and uncaring, like the naked density of a rock.
              There is an odd satisfaction in arranging silverware, especially on the eve of an apocalypse.
              Which isn’t to say I won’t be disappointed if the apocalypse is canceled. Or postponed.
              That is, in fact, the purpose of the bathrobe. Bathrobes are inherently teleological. They have a quieting effect on the rumblings of chaos.
              This would include condiments. But what is the correct response to condiments?
              Mirrors. Cacophony. Engaging perspectives.
              Russian paleontologists extracting mammoth tusks from the muck of Wrangel Island.
              Beads of water on the underside of a leaf, all symmetrical, as if crafted by a jeweler.
              Puppets with cleavage hanging obliquely among the words that heave and jerk them into dramas of greed and redemption.
              And what of the geography of sorrow? What of anticlines of rugged indignation? The languor of ponds in puddings of moss? The hollows of rook and rock and rotunda? Of bone? Of the rectory at Mont Saint Michel? How should the enigma that is the tuning fork best be enucleated?
              The geography of blood cries out for exploration. Imagine, for instance, a Tuesday immersed in lumber. Men and women examining planks of maple and oak and sugar pine. The smell of that. And a boiler threatening to explode and a fringe of cypress and a mustang in the snow.
              Puppets with cleavage. Strings that kink and tangle like sentences.
              Corpuscles. Veins.
              This ain’t no fairytale.
              This is a woman returning home with a bag of groceries.
              This is an engine, and this is a song propelled by blood.
              Music and blood.
              Which is an ideal arrangement.
              A wart for the mist of morning.
              A large silk dragon flapping and clacking in a hard December wind.

Why I Never Wear Suspenders

I love the shape of eggs, the heft of eggs, the taste and interior of eggs. Eggs are beautiful. They are annotations for the persistence of birds. Footnotes of quiet respectability, like the dripping intrinsic to the features of a faucet, the dripping that goes on quietly, if at all, in the middle of the night, while people are sleeping, with their head full of dreams, their heads which are shaped like eggs, eggs full of dreams.
              Eggs dripping dreams.
              Eggs with hair on them.
              Mixtures of vanity and breath.
              The backyard and its chimeras weirdly objects to the jingling and twinkling of Christmas in a fashion that has little to do with zinc or squash but a great deal to do with perception and that tendency to imbue the external world with emotion.
              I normally like to distance myself from emotion in poetry but sometimes that is not always possible. Sometimes one must acknowledge a beatitude, a mystery, a beautiful thing like an egg, or an analysis of glass inciting the applause of elves.
              It’s weird, but I call it home.
              There are no labyrinths in oblivion, so I put them there.
              The ideal reptile is one that darts from place to place with a seeming deliberation that ultimately means nothing.
              Or carries a load of sparks to the bleachers.
              I don’t understand electricity, but I do understand volcanoes.
              If a shrug is a sign of nonchalance, then a teaspoon is a tibia of light.
              The peremptory call of materialism bites a moment of transcendence and a leopard in the throat leaps out and takes a bite out of Utah.
              Spits out Idaho.
              And crawls through the snow bleeding Colorado.
              This is why I get so queasy around women’s ankles. They’re so profoundly delicate and lovely.
              Like eggs. The delicacy of shells. Punctuation for an exploding calliope.
              Omelets. Omens. Onions. The self-evidence of oysters. The heavy sadness of the waterfront. Smashed crates. Creaking docks. Immersions in words. Inflammations of chrome and perception.
              Lacerated reflection.
              Pearls in a pool of milk.

Places Unknown

Money does nothing. So I packed my suitcase with a little blue drop of frozen light and left for Moscow.
              Moscow smelled of borscht and capitalism so I left for Katmandu. Katmandu showed me divinity in a bone so I left for places unknown.
              I arrived in places unknown and got to know it better. Or perhaps I should say un-know it better.
              I got to un-know it so well I could hear shovels grow lyrical with abstraction. I felt the air congeal into language. The language turned scrupulous with Gothic machinery and imposed itself in the mind like a morning tangled in blackberries.
              Is the sky a form of mind?
              I believe it is. It congregates in vapors and its horsepower is olive. Horsepower is always olive. Alive with olive. First because I like the word olive and secondly because the bald reticence of pasta mimics the ramification of reverie. Which is why I wear a hat of milkweed fringed with earthquakes and purple beverages.
              You could call it a handshake rippling with talk.
              You could call it the fast adhesion of postage.
              You could call it the meaning inside a word, any word, which is a reverie smelling of parallels.
              Reality, after all, isn’t a sandwich. It’s a Colt 45.
              That’s right. I don’t own a jaguar. I drive a skeleton of hope.
              You must pull the meaning of these words along with your eyes. Otherwise they won’t go anywhere. They will just turn vague, like the cold stone of addiction. You feel a constant hunger for something but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones.
              If my hormones were dreaming this could be a retina knitting a vision of aluminum. This could be a nebula. This could be a toad.
              Or a smear of toothpaste in the bathroom sink.
              Or a sensation of form fringed with adjectives.
              This could be a tendril of meaning spreading itself across a sheet of paper.
              Like human consciousness. Like delinquent examples of ink.
              Like a dragonfly darting back and forth over a dirt road.

In Sum

If a sound is made by backbone, then the soul of it will weigh itself in glitter, and frontier aphorisms will be consummated in sympathy and stone. This is true of chins, and the anomalous bones of goldfish.
              Why do we write?
              We write to explain ourselves to one another. We create pills. We fix our associations to the misconceptions of dogs. We walk sidewalks in winter. There is a radio under the word ‘romance’ and the taste of oysters under the word ‘declaim.’
              Not everything is lumber. Some things are also appliances.
              The word ‘ultimate’ is based on a private feeling.
              The word ‘intimate’ is based on an aching muscle.
              This is why Spanish is always naked and German is always lumpy.
              The Florida in you is a hairdo. I can see that. I can also see that the prevailing fashion of thought these days is antithetical to varnish. Everything is pixels and digits. Everything is binary. Everything is phantasmal. Everything is fictional and immersed in fog. Like the city. The city is immersed in fog. Like all things gray and ambiguous, it is a weird blend of pain and pleasure. Adversities turned to advantage. Gestures enlarged by irony. Irresolutions set adrift forever, like one of those haunting songs from the 60s, “Walk Away Renee” or “She’s Not There.”
              All cities have ambiguities, certain quizzical features, certain energies that express themselves in velour and breastbones and breath.
              The warts of Chicago.
              The rafters of Boston.
              The bedsprings of Zurich the hoes of Paris the engines of Guadalajara the enigmas of Rangoon.
              The scratches of New Orleans the camels of Timbuktu the trigonometry of Budapest the orchids of Cincinnati.
              And what is the sum of all these parts?
              Blue neon on a cold winter night.
              A friend appearing out of the fog.
              A slight misapprehension.
              An absorbed and curious dog.

Dots And Dabs

The biology of color is dense and alphabetic. It is thick and incomplete. It is thin and flame. Occurrences of hunger veined with silver. February in Oregon. The tables of reason shining out of the ecstasies of winter fables.
              If these words were colors they would equal weather.
              The weather of dolls.
              The weather of halls.
              The weather of effort and necessity and mixture and vast gloomy generalities dropping from the sky like incessant nailing.
              Or rain.
              Plain simple rain.
              There is a certain divinity in rain. Even a hacksaw rusting in a backyard has something to say about private feelings expressed as umbrellas. Doors are opened by fingers curling around doorknobs. The process is exquisite, muscular, like memories minced in ink.
              If these words were colors they would indulge daubs of black.
              It’s easy to sell one’s skin but harder to sell a dangerously repressed feeling. Music stirs our emotions. Ink turns into flint. The easy straw of intrigue crackles in the paradox of fire.
              These are my lighthouse shoes.
              These are my lightning socks.
              These are symptoms of realism, phantoms sitting in a hospital waiting room. Nuclear acne. Lumber. Customs, dress, behavior. A Cubist dentist with asymmetric teeth drilling a hole in a romantic molar.
              You cannot measure a thrill. You cannot measure the shadow of a shadow. You cannot measure a ribbon of joy soaked in Mardis Gras. You cannot measure the weight of a reflection, a flea in a refinery, the silence in the air before a volcano erupts or the heartbeat of the universe looped in alphabets of fruit. The triumph of trumpets. The broth of thought.
              Here is a pink emotion. Do with it what you will. Roll it around in the blood. Invest it in perception. Provoke music. Be contemplative and Elizabethan. Maneuver it through a sonnet. A description of mirrors crawling across the table.
              Don’t worry if a little of it comes loose.
              You can’t bite a hot dog without a little mustard squirting out.
              If these words were colors they would smell of life. They would feel a dragon stirring in the nerves. They would allow things to happen. Healing and rhinestone and photography and jade. Daylight and snow and Mozart’s birthday. The necessity of burlap. A fold. A lament. A large fat sound surrounded by Thursday. I assume you are listening. I assume this is making sense. If these words were colors they would form a pair of beaded moccasins falling to the floor. And the quiet of that moment.

My Life In Five Paragraphs

The first punch sent me flying into a Christmas tree. The second put me on the floor on my hands and knees, blood dripping from my nose. I tumbled outside, caught a train to North Dakota, and went to college. I listened to Bob Dylan. I went to California. I got high on LSD. I flew apart on LSD. I reassembled myself. I went north to Seattle. I worked at Boeing. Boeing was dark and boring. I quit Boeing. I went back to California. I lived in a bus. I got called to the army induction center to go fight in Vietnam. I told them I was gay. They let me go. I went north to Humboldt County. Everything smelled like burning wood. I watched the bottoms of clouds burn red with sawmill smoke. I consorted with Wordsworth, Keats, and Shakespeare. I inoculated myself with Blake. I lived in a trailer in back of a Mexican restaurant. I lived in a hotel. I went to San Jose one summer. I met a woman. I got married. I got divorced.
              I went north again to Seattle. I got a job in a hospital. I rode up and down on an elevator. I delivered IV stands, surgical trays, anti-embolism stockings, diabetes socks, cervical pillows, catheters, exam gloves, commodes, consultation coats and spin hematocrits. I quit that job and got another job in a mailroom. I ran mail, sorted mail, weighed mail, maneuvered mail, threw mail, shuffled mail, delivered mail, collected mail, traced mail, dispersed, disposed, and processed mail. I did this for 19 years. I began to hate mail. I got drunk a lot. I met a woman in the mailroom. I got married to the woman I met in the mailroom. I got divorced from the woman I met in the mailroom. The woman in the mailroom kicked me out of the house and began life with a Guatemalan who liked gardening.
              I continued to work in the mailroom but began to live my life elsewhere. Existence is elsewhere.
              I quit working in the mailroom. I met a woman who writes poetry. This made everything in life easier. Easier to be alive. We got married at the top of a hotel with all our friends. We rode pintos to the moon.
              One day I noticed I was still living and so made room for another paragraph. I had room for a paragraph but nothing to put in it yet. And so the paragraph is not quite yet a separate thing from my life. It is a membranous organ. It is amorphous and void. I am free to invent whatever I want to put in it. Sometimes this fills me with panic. But then I sit down to eat a doughnut. Calm returns. I sip some coffee. I eat a banana. I eat an orange. I find a paring knife in the drawer and peel away the upper and lower poles of the orange. Then I make slices. Lacerations from pole to pole. Juice comes out. My fingers get wet. I peel the skin away. I separate the juicy chunks of orange and eat them. This could be a paragraph in the process of acquiring a text. This could be a life. The life of a man eating an orange. The life of a man finishing an orange and cleaning a plate. The life of a man staring at a plate. The life of a man wondering what to do next.

This material is © John Olson
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