John Olson: 3 prose poems

Three Things I Like About Nihilism 

Three things I like about nihilism: 1. I don’t have to do anything. There’s no future, no goals, no objectives, no ambition, & I like that. Why? I’m lazy. And I’m old. 2. It promotes the idea that reality doesn’t exist. I like that. I never liked reality, never got along with reality. Reality is the jism of demon plutocratic psychopaths running for president in the United States of Despair. Shut down factories boarded up stores. You get the idea. 3. Epistemological nihilism – according to which knowledge does not exist – is also quite good. Knowledge hurts my head. I have to take a lot ibuprofen to keep all the shit in my brain half-way manageable. What do I NOT like about nihilism? No morality. No ethics. Life with no intrinsic value. Arid, puckered heart of Ayn Rand. 

You ask if I have a manifesto. Of course I have a manifesto. How can anyone get through a single day without a manifesto? One should declare one’s intentions in a loud, stentorian voice each morning. At the bus stop. At the grocery store. At the bank. Especially at the bank. Declare oneself the inventor of a new mode of life & the bank officials will rush toward you with fistfuls of money. Become a virus. Replicate rebellion. Attend to the non-essential. Hop down the street in a burlap sack screaming diphthong! diphthong! diphthong! Hide your worries from the world until they’ve all matured, then let them go: fiery little contributions of noise for the ragout of life. 

My I confide in you a little? No, I don’t have a gun. But I do have a fish. I make everything I have out of air. Out of thin air. As opposed to fat air. Thick air. Sportscast air. All the air I use I suck in & let it out as breath. Sometimes I put words into the breath & the breath goes crazy & becomes a hammerjaw. And spit. This summer the world was on fire. How do you put that into words? Light a stick of meaning & stick it into the gerunds stacked like cordwood by the gymnasium of my mouth. There’s a firmament there & a few comfortable vowels packed away in the consonants, which are kept in the back, with the refills & fish. Everything else is heresy. 

I’m holding a requiem for the impassivity of the washcloth. It just hangs from the faucet, feeling nothing. Is that fair? No, it’s not. So, obviously, a soothing rhetoric spreads, which asserts that it is necessary to renounce any protest movement in advance, on the pretext that the impassivity of the dishrag is a consequence of dark energy & the geometry of space. I find this confusing from a Jungian perspective, but a whiff of peanut butter while washing out the empty peanut butter jar soothes the shadow within, & a dream of seasoned indignation enacted in the nakedness of a poem crawls out of the sink of my brain. There’s always a new way of being in the world. 

No barbiturate needs a barber, though many a majority require a marjoram to thicken their mufti with wool. Subterranean turnstile slime on a turtleneck woodpecker humping a peppermint. You might find the same phrase in a nitrate. I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ but I do know an olfactory from a tonsil. The seismograph could use a coat of quake. Said the quaker. To the shaker. Of salt. Hamlet’s problem was everyone’s, in the final estimate. Go find a skull and fill it with punctuation. The story turns out the same, but without any commas, which get in the way of the flow of things, which would otherwise continue the veneer of stopping completely. 

Greetings From Phucket Province 

I did that Steven Wright thing the other day, put my car key into the apartment door & started the building. I didn’t want to waste such an opportunity so I drove it to Tijuana. The drive took a couple of days, but we all had food, beds, bathrooms, what the heck. It’s a giant Winnebago. The neighbors weren’t as thrilled about this as I was, so I paid for everyone’s tattoos & booze. Body massage. Spanish lessons. Stylish face masks. We had a good time. We returned as friends. I promised to be more careful in the future. But I’ve already started collecting brochures for Budapest & Ibiza. And won’t they be surprised to wake up in Phang Nga Bay, Phucket Province. 

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s both a little disturbing & a little intriguing, like objects in an art gallery whose purpose or definition remains elusive. Today the algorithms coughed up an object to the right of the computer screen that mystifies me. It’s leather, like a baseball glove, but no fingers, no cup like a catcher’s mitt. Could be a hat. The hind part has a bowl shape, ideal for a skull, & the rest swoops down to an edge constituting a kind of bill. The ad says Vintage Style, 60% off. Banggood. Ok. That still tells me nothing. What is this thing? What are the algorithms trying to tell me? The Romans used to read the guts of sacrificial animals to predict the future. Now we have algorithms, faceless empires reading our data. 

I went to get some shaving lather yesterday and discovered the shelves were empty, void of lather. I asked a clerk what happened to the shaving lather and she said that there was a shortage of cans, due to a shortage of aluminum. You just can’t predict what and where the next shortage is going to be. But one thing is for sure: normalcy is not around the corner. Normalcy (and to think I’ve always hated normalcy for being the mind-numbing guano of complacency and self-satisfaction) has never looked so good. I think of it as the vinyl upholstery in roadside cafeterias into which one’s weary body could sink while pondering a menu. Those situations in which the ordinary become extraordinary and the extraordinary become a wilderness sanctuary on your face called a beard.

Why is art beautiful? Because it’s intense. Vivid as a vocal cord on an operating table with a turtleneck & a sewing machine. But who can tell the difference between a vocal cord and a sewing machine? The vocal cord sews sounds together and a sewing machine needles innocent fabrics together until they turn into clothes. Then the clothes get up and walk around using human beings to do this. That’s what clothes do. They wear people. And that’s what people do. Give clothes a ride. Otherwise they’d be stuck in a closet all day, waiting for something to do. 

Poltergeists come to us in lacy white tops and sparkly socks trying to sell us oligarchy. But we don’t want any oligarchy. Oligarchy hurts and tastes awful. It tastes like greed, which is common and vulgar, and malignant with lies. So we shoo the poltergeists away. Something inside us is still listening to that ancient music of the stars. And we all prefer to keep it that way. Here at the end of time. Where if you want to show a feeling you take it out of your mouth and hang it in the air. Unconfined and undefined. And the fire in the adjacent room, under a spiral staircase, which is being tended by an old woman, is dim and soft, and warm and gold, and crackles like a mind.  

It’s hard to appreciate just how vast the universe is. I can’t do it. Infinity is the space outside of the bucket and the space outside of the space surrounding the bucket and the minnows in the bucket and thank you, language, for making this river hurt my face. Description succeeds by walking across a blackboard disguised as an equation. And slam the door on the way out. I’ve been waiting so long to see something like this in Thailand, and I’m not disappointed. But wait, there’s more. Wat Chalong isn’t the only remarkable temple in Phuket Province. I don’t even know how I came to be here. I mean in the larger sense, the one we all wonder about. Why? And there’s never an answer for that. Say what you will, Brian Jones was the soul of the Stones. He always seemed to be goofily smiling. He is the most undead dead person I know.


Clatter the correspondence I’m invisible. My suitcase ruptures anything serious. I fold a silk and winter sea and subdue it with a cove. A machine fabricates its yells. And so this sentence walks into the infinite huffing and puffing like a breath mint. This greed we wander secures our nickel.   Prophecies submerge wrinkling my birth. The wisdom I stir clouds prospect but clarifies my hat. I take the insistence of opium for a franchise. Pasting fruit carved below a compilation of vines. I feel parrots walk around my unconscious reciting speeches from Hamlet. This urges enough stirring to merit an audible dollar. The ghost of capitalism shoves it right up to my ear. The meat of an idea prepares our fiction for a journey across space and time. There’s a philodendron since the dendrites maintain a salon. A twang applies steam to a piece of music. The galaxy hoists the snow I now solicit. A dream calls me into grammar. My boxing jar is my lyrical pastime. A timeless abalone punches an oat. The spars are blue the mast is nude. The addition of a pepper makes it a pronoun not a despair. A polymer stirred to reality is now aging in a reckless pituitary. Within burns a sleep turning words into motels. Chattanooga walks in beauty like the yo-yo. Pyramids have a point. A solicitous crowd shoves the forgotten history of cork into granite. This is me spending my age on a tight braid of hair, and whiskers. The harness has a heft in the mouth of the storyteller. And this creates a sense of wilderness. Everything else retires into fingers. 

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