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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 3: May 2020
Prose Poem: 606 words [R]
By John Olson

Running for Cover


People have become grenades. One sneeze & you’re dead. Jesus. What a world. How did it get this bad? And another part of me answers “are you kidding?” Space is everywhere. But there’s a general understanding that unites everything in cotton. It happens this way in water. Which means that the body is its own continuous surge of meaning. I fill with a thousand obscurities. Zigzags & crags. The world is a summons. The body is a witness. We rise & give testimony. It spreads me into being. Like a gunslinger. You sneeze, I cough. And we run for cover.

Will there be an end to this? Will we ever return to normalcy? There. I said it. The “n” word. Which doesn’t exist. Our imaginations have been forged in chaos. But I’m not a banana. I’m only a crumb in a sourdough world. Some cells become neurons & some cells become kingdoms. We’re water balloons held together by sticks. But a vowel enclosed in a sack of consonants will develop a spine & walk. And that’s called adaptation, which is sensitive to evolving variables. I’m not sure what to think of it. Of what? I don’t know, pick something. The pyramids of Egypt. The sky is pink & friendly. That’s where I want to be. Up there. Shaking hands with the sun.

The theorists seated like Rodin’s thinker leave me doubtful. I’m in favor of a traveling thought that lets itself be contaminated by the street. Do you feel appreciated? Loved? Can you find love in the street? Yes! No! Maybe! I don’t know. But take a closer look: the white snow mountain in the center of this sentence depicts the land of the great nation of Tibet. Perhaps it’s there that you’ll come to the six red rays emanating from my Aunt Winifred. Did I say Tibet? I meant Timbuktu. And driving back from Chicago I heard the Bobby Womack song “It’s All Over Now” for the umpteenth time & took stock of life’s flavors, its bittersweet consistency & goo.

That funny blowy sound a bottle makes just as you bring it to your mouth & the air from your nose goes into the bottle & back out as a funny blowy sound, is that the rapture of the air as it glides in & out of a bottle moments before I rub my mouth & close the refrigerator door, or is the ghost of Socrates running at me like a blind, red rhinoceros pounding the hardened earth? We’re all going a little silly these days. It’s all this confinement. Though I wouldn’t call it confinement. I’d call it ideal & get into a frame of mind I can take somewhere. This is moving in a good direction. Some places you can only find within. I can’t say what it is. But it won’t be Tulsa.

I like doors. I like opening doors. I like closing doors. I like painting doors. I like the musical group The Doors. I like Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. I like juxtaposing doors with windows & the big mahogany doors of Federal buildings. Revolving doors confuse me. Doors in literature include the wardrobe door to Narnia, the tiny door to Wonderland, the door in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden & the two famous doors in Frank Stockton’s short story “The Lady or the Tiger.” I rarely slam doors. The peppermint door to salvation is a mammogram of softness & bulk & opens & closes quietly. The Door To Furious Conclusions opens to the Chamber of Arbitrary Discrepancies. But don’t open this door. You’ll wake up unhinged.

—Reprinted with author’s permission from his blog, Tillalala Chronicles (3 May 2020)

John Olson
Issue 3, May 2020

is the author of nine books of poetry, including most recently these published by Black Widow Press: Dada Budapest (June 2017), Larynx Galaxy (2012), and Backscatter (2008). He is also the author of The Nothing That Is (Ravenna Press, 2010), an autobiographical novel from the second-person point of view, and three novels published by Quale Press: In Advance of the Broken Justy (2016); The Seeing Machine (2012), about French painter Georges Braque; and Souls of Wind (shortlisted for a Believer book of the year award in 2008), in which French poet Arthur Rimbaud visits the United States in the 1880s and meets Billy the Kid while on a paleontological dig in New Mexico.

Born in Minnesota, Olson has lived several decades in Seattle, Washington, and is married to the poet Roberta Olson. His writing notebooks have been exhibited at the University of Washington, and his prose poetry has been published and reviewed in print and online poetry magazines around the world. He was one of eight finalists for the 2012 Arts Innovator Award from Artist Trust, and received a Genius Award for literature in 2004 from Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper, The Stranger.

Clayton Eshleman, distinguished poet, editor, and translator (noted in particular for his translations of works by César Vallejo), says: “Olson is an original, and that accomplishment is an extraordinary feat at this point in the long history of literature.... He is writing the most outlandish, strange, and inventive prose poetry ever in the history of the prose poem.”

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