Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Four Poems, John Olson

 The Funniness Of Fun 

I like the way raindrops collect on the windshield gray afternoon the drops glitter look like stars the gazillions of stars you see out in rural areas away from the city plus the clickety clickety sound of rain speckling splattering the metal of the car parked in front of a drugstore sliding glass door out comes a woman all in black black sweater black pants black backpack lush thick waterfall of black hair down her shoulders and back. Next day I’m in the same spot, same time, same gray sky dropping its constellations of rain and nebulas of mist, but this time I’m a little less enthusiastic, probably because it’s colder. I’ve got the heater on full blast and it feels great. I get immersed in Kerouac. R startles me as she opens the door. We go to Mud Bay and get a few cans of cat food. Our cat’s favorite brand is running low again. These are such strange times. You never know what items are going to be hard to find. One day it’s shaving lather. The next it’s cat food. There was a report yesterday on a French news station that, due to a paper shortage, a number of book titles are going to have to wait indefinitely for publication. I think everybody feels it, the sense of things unraveling, of a general ebb in the currents and eddies of civilized life. Tsunamis of public hysteria. Waves of misinformation. A listless anomie among the young, and who can blame them? The mixture of impending doom and creepy, self-congratulatory gratification for compliance one feels while showing proof of vaccination to an officious waiter. We come home and I go for a run while R makes Greek Pasta. It’s not all that bad running in the rain. The body begins producing heat from within and the cold fresh air begins to feel a little exhilarating. Dodging puddles is both irritating and fun. It’s weird that something can be irritating and fun simultaneously. Cooking, for example. It can be a bit of a hassle, but the intricacies are fun. What a funny word fun is. Fun is funny. The word is of uncertain origin, but may be from 1680s meaning of fun “to cheat, hoax,” which may be a variant of Middle English fonnen, “befool.” It hasn’t been around that long. Is having a fun a modern concept? Seattle once had a Fun Forest. This was a 20-acre site of 20 rides – Ferris Wheel, Roller Coaster, Log Ride, Flight to Mars – which was dismantled and replaced with the Chihuly Garden of Glass Museum. Seattle got serious. High-tech. Business-oriented. Real Estate went bonkers. $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. $600,000 for a dumpy fixer-upper. And now we have homeless encampments everywhere, with a big one behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. None of which is fun. Fun is the ghostly silence left behind by the death of the Fun Forest. Fun is funnier than ever. It’s fun to stay home and avoid the traffic. Fun to reminisce. Or buy a gun. 

Rogue Emotion 

Yesterday I saw an emotion wandering around in the park and, since no one was feeling it, I went up to talk to it and see if I could get a feel for what feeling that emotion would be like. There’s nothing sadder than a lost emotion wandering around with no one to feel it. Very sad. So sad sadness doesn’t even want to be around it. Sadness has other things to do. Lots of people are sad. Sadness is busy. So what’s the deal, I said to the emotion. Nothing much, said the emotion. I see that you’re an emotion. Did the park department send you here? How might I go about feeling you? You can feel me anyway you want. But what kind of emotion are you? I don’t like to feel emotions I don’t like. Guilt, for instance. Or remorse. I’m not guilt. And I’m not remorse. So what are you then? Just lost, said the emotion. Lost and alone and not quite born yet, not fully here, since no one feels me. I feel you. You do? I’m lost, too. And hungry? Yes. Then it’s working. I’m getting across. Yes. You’re getting across. Let’s be friends. Sure thing. The emotion crawled up my ass and made itself at home. At first, it felt a little like radar, pulses of electromagnetism pinging off squirrels & crows. Then more like a spinster in a rocking chair spitting tobacco. Then an astronaut putting a foot down on a planet for the first time. And then one morning I felt a stirring of wings in my mouth, and the emotion flew out in a flock of words.

Stradivarius Of Darkness 

I want to be a Stradivarius of darkness. I want to be Agnes Moorhead swatting little astronauts in a Twilight Zone episode. I think of myself as Popeye. But it’s not working. My forearms are still the same size. And I don’t like spinach. However, the poultice does seem to be working. Nihilism is where you end up when you look for the light in someone’s eyes. It’s all about pushing a language into a huge poem waiting to be written. The Portuguese call it saudade, the sadness of an unappeasable longing. We look in the poem and see vowels riding around on consonants persuasive as sugar, and think to ourselves yes, I believe I will pull this poem out of the womb of its creation and see what it can do. So far, nothing. But I can see it breathe, and its eyes open, and something vague and beautiful as Chicago at night causes trains to exist.

Chestnuts, Cherries And A Jukebox Tree 

I live close to a street that had once been lined with chestnut trees, immensities so thick, so old, so lush that the combined effect was that of a tunnel, a shrouded passageway arched by limbs of exuberant foliage. Most of those chestnuts are now gone, victims of environmental stress, the calamitous realities of climate change, drought, abnormally warm temperatures & pest outbreaks. Root rot, sunscald, blight. Gall wasps, gypsy moths, worms. When I first moved to this neighborhood, I was unaware of a ritual that occurred every year beginning in late September and continuing into late October. These were chestnut hunters, most of them elderly, bowed, looking intently at the ground, the street and people’s lawns, stepping on bristly balls of chestnut which, when cooked, taste like roasted buttercup squash. The trick is to stand on the case, one foot on each side, until it splits and the chestnuts pop out. I was unaware of any of this when, going for a run at 5:00 a.m. in the morning when the world is still dark, I encountered groups of people, shadowy figures, completely silent, searching the ground with flashlights. I couldn’t make sense of any of this. I thought I’d run into a scene from a David Lynch movie. I also learned that chestnuts are not always quiet. I would be frequently startled to hear the thud of a chestnut on the roof of a parked car. Oak and cherry trees have been planted to replace the chestnut trees. Each spring, the cherry trees blossom and the effect is one of explosive color, white and pink, until the petals drop to the street in mounds resembling snowdrifts, and the oval shaped leaves replacing them climax in a festival of green. One among them displays an array of bright silvery CD discs, hung on the branches to ward off birds. I call it the Jukebox Tree, and imagine the CDs are by artists like Chuck Berry, Electric Prunes and Tangerine Dream.

John Olson (born August 23, 1947 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) is an American poet and novelist. Olson has lived for many years in Seattle, Washington. He has published nine collections of poetry and three novels, including Souls of Wind, nominated for the 2008 Believer Book Award. In 2004, Seattle’s weekly newspaper, The Stranger, for whom he has written occasional essays, gave Olson one of its annual “genius awards. His writing notebooks have been exhibited at the University of Washington... Olson’s prose poetry has been reviewed in print and online poetry magazines. The poet Philip Lamantia said that Olson was “extraordinary…the greatest prose poetry [i’ve] ever read.” And Clayton Eshleman said “he is writing the most outlandish, strange, and inventive prose poetry ever in the history of the prose poem.”

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