Six Poems by Josh Olsen
The following poems by Josh Olsen were originally published in Thieves Jargon.
Matt and Ginger
I mocked Matt’s hair and music, called him “Eddie Munster” and “Marilyn Hanson,” and not long after we met he began fantasizing about smashing my face with a barbell.
He was only twelve, but I never doubted his ability to do so.
His dog didn’t like me, either – Ginger, a small, brown bitch of a toy poodle. Her claws were painted to match the ribbons in her fur. She bit without warning.
I used to claim Matt and Ginger were engaged in a passionate interspecies affair.
Over the years, Matt built up a tolerance to my sense of humor and now he writes poems about smashing other people’s faces and has forgotten about mine, but Ginger still bites.
Our neighbors saw us through the dining room window, began to wave, and Jack and Bella were quick to join them for a brisk walk while I stayed inside, using the time alone to read, perhaps, or sleep. “After our walk we will have apple pie,” said Agnes, her French accent breaking the mask of steam in front of her face.
I watched the first ten minutes of Poultrygeist, Lloyd Kaufman’s musical epic about fast food conglomerates and Native American chicken zombies, then quietly masturbated through a grainy VHS copy of Class of Nuke’ Em High.
The kids came home with two paper plates taped in the form of a shell. “Apple pie,” Bella stated, “with eggs.” “You mean custard?” I asked, but recoiled to discover it tasted like breakfast. “We found a frozen squirrel,” Jack randomly added to the moment, and I politely continued to smile and chew and swallow, but after they left the kitchen I threw the second slice in the garbage.
Bella needed a bag of change for math class. 10 quarters, 10 dimes, 20 nickels, 25 pennies. I pulled the stopper from the underside of her piggybank and spilled its contents.
She counted the coins while I eyed the cash.
28 dollars – 2 fives and 18 ones. I tried to justify my thoughts – I’d pay her back … double … triple … plus interest – but only made myself sick.
I left the bedroom to have diarrhea.
Thanks to Pablo Neruda and W.S. Merwin
When we left in the morning to plunder the Old Plymouth neighborhood yard sale, the magnolia tree was shy, its fleshy buds tight and dense, but after we returned it was nothing short of miraculous.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees, I thought while watching KT’s hips as she climbed the front stairs and she invited me into the bathroom, our new favorite place for privacy.
But just as the shower stall filled with steam, we heard three knocks and several anxious voices, our own two kids and a few of the neighbors’, as well.
They all had to shit.
“To be continued,” I said while trying to think of an inconspicuous exit strategy…and slowly withdrew.
Cinqo de Mayo
KT made short-change of an avocado while I fumbled with a large, sweet Vidalia. “I forgot how to cut an onion,” I said, and KT shirked her shoulders and moved on to a lime. It was Cinqo de Mayo, so we were drinking margaritas and making quesadillas, but I was craving a bratwurst. Through an open window, I smelled charcoal and lighter fluid and the acrid, vinegar odor of sauerkraut. “Remember Heritage Days?” I asked KT. “And sauerkraut wrestling?” In all honesty, the memory of sauerkraut wrestling was far superior to the actual moment, but I loved the ability to say that I had, in fact, attended a live sauerkraut wrestling match. KT shut the window, cutting off the smells of spring, but also the musical styling of Michael W. Smith. For the past hour, our neighbors had been grilling-out while soberly singing along to Contemporary Christian rock n’ roll and both KT and I had gotten our fill of DC Talk and Amy Grant. “Should I invite them over for shots?” I asked, swirling a golden bottle of 100% agave tequila, then swept aside my mutilated onion and grabbed a handful of cilantro. With the first chop, the heavy German blade sliced off the tip of my finger and KT ran to the bathroom for a clean towel.
It was all that was available to us, all we could afford – our new home had no floors, but it was spring, so we didn’t mind.
The air was thick and suffocating, but the dirt beneath our bare feet was cool.
The kids were hungry, but it was late and we had nothing to eat – I used my hands to dig two shallow beds in the rich black soil.
After they closed their eyes, I considered burying them in their sleep.
About the Author
Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.