“This Is Your Brain on Words”: The Many Mouths in the Head of John Olson
There’s a deep hole in the floor this morning by my bed. It’s where I left my copy of John Olson’s Weave of the Dream King. All 539 pages of his multitudinous poetry. Perhaps it was the weight of the tome that created the hole in the floor. Acids leaking from the massive turbine-heart.
I stick my head down in the hole, but I can see nothing, only black curtains shifting about as if someone miles below was pulling and twisting the curtains. Then I hear a voice: “Poetry is a cruel public drug.” “Excuse me,” I reply, uncertain of what I heard. “The supposition that something like wisdom exists is a door to our garments.” Then “The moonlight is smeared in the silent ovation of stars.” Silence. And “The Tongue is a monstrous organ.”
I withdraw my head out of the hole, certain now that I am still in my bed, dreaming. I say aloud, “I am now waking up, all over my body,” and I wake up. And there is the hole in the floor next to my bed.
There is nothing else to do, really, but place my head inside the hole once again. And so I do, and I immediately hear someone say: “The answers are coming.” “That would be nice,” I tell the voice, though I am rather doubtful I will hear the kind of answers I need at this moment. “And that’s the crux of the problem: what do I know? And how do I know it?” says the voice, surely not the same voice as before; certainly a different voice but no doubt from the same head. This voice sound more, I hesitate to use the word, but I will—rational. “There are sensitivities that crave poetry in a society that cares only about commodity.” I gasp. How can this voice be so logical, so perceptive and yet in a head, the same head, I’m sure, that can be so not-so-rational?
I pull my head out of the hole, suddenly aware that John Olson is speaking to me, from this hole in the floor, reciting passages from Weave of the Dream King. I find some paper, and write this list:
- Have I watered the plants this week?
- Why does chocolate and peanut butter and kerosene go so well together?
- I need to cut my toenails.
- This is my brain on words.
- Arthur Crudup recorded “That’s All Right” on Sept. 6, 1946. And he never received any royalties from Elvis, though Crudup wrote the hit song.
- Weave of the Dream King weighs 2,249 pounds.
- John Olson is a most dangerous man.
Now I think I understand what is happening. I stick my head once again into the hole, and I hear a voice say, “This is your brain on words,” and I believe this must be the mouth of wisdom. “I have a very friendly penis,” says another mouth, this one the absurdist. “American society has lost its ethics and no longer functions as a real society,” and I know that’s the rational mouth, the mouth that is argumentative. “Give me dumplings or give me death,” says another, and this is the jokester mouth. I like this mouth a lot. “Sometimes all you need is an Oreo cookie,” says the comforting mouth. I like this one too. “I have gorilla glue on my fingers,” says the disturbed mouth. I like it, but sometimes it scares me.
It’s time to leave. I have to write John Olson a letter, telling him what his book did to my floor this morning, and how it spoke to me. I pull my head out, then plunge it back in, to say goodbye. “These are just a few of my beautiful irritations,” I hear a mouth say. I want to say, “Yes, all the mouths in this wondrous head produce the most beautiful irritations.” But instead, I can only say words that come from the book: “I just like the warm sugar of bees.”
If you plunge your head into Weave of the Dream King, I’m sure you’ll agree.