KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Prose Poem: 840 words [R]

Odor Plume

by John Olson

The wind takes what it wants and deposits it elsewhere. Whoever has owned a flying carpet is familiar with this effect. You don’t always go where you want to go. You don’t always arrive at the destination you had in mind. Movement is sometimes a joy, sometimes a great exposition. A 10,000-pound tractor in Harding County, South Dakota sitting in 14-inch-high crested wheat grass was hoisted straight into the air by a tornado and deposited, in pieces, a mile and a half away in Montana. This would tend to indicate a presence in the air, a movement whose predilections are as capricious as they are enigmatic.

Our interpretations of this world are often overstated and misleading. What can anyone say? Nobody understands this planet. Nobody understands this life. If they did, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. Thanks to the many heat engines that comprise civilization and its emissions of methane and carbon dioxide, the atmosphere is a complete mess, jets streams meandering in tropospheric chaos creating climatic havoc all over the planet, drought in England, murderous heat waves in Japan, forest fires in Sweden, tornados of fire in northern California. Typhoons, monsoons, hurricanes and cyclones howling through our cities like merciless banshees. Crops failing, the sea rising, the ice sheets of Antarctica tumbling into the sea. Greenland will soon be green again. The Arctic Sea a deep blue where the ice once deflected the rays of the sun back into space. That heat will be added to the oven that is now our planet.

We fucked up. Royally. Has there ever been a species this misguided? This wrong-headed? This stupefyingly myopic?

How did we lose our way? Did we ever know the way? Is too much consciousness too little consciousness? Is walking erect with a big head bobbing around not actually the silliest permutation to ever emerge from the goop of polymers that brought us here?

Bees have learned far better ways to inhabit the world and navigate. They use dance and magnetism. We use needles and glass. Latitude and longitude. Bees use pheromones and ultraviolet. Cognitive maps.

We use Rand McNally atlases. Roadside museums and postcard racks.

We have very little in our language that actually conforms to reality, whatever reality is. We have nothing in our vocabulary that links directly to the phenomena oscillating through our nerves and aggregating into the appropriate words, the right syntax, the right grammatical machinery to convey the ontology of a chrysanthemum. The disconnect is abyssal. We have nothing as expansive as echo location. Nothing as informative as odor. Nothing as illuminating as a waggle dance.

We invent Gods. We devise religions. We create philosophies and customs.

We use mobile phones to buy drugs, pesticides to grow biofuel.

Bees use associative learning. Bees pair stimuli together to form three-dimensional models of the world. Bees abstract orientation or symmetry and integrate it into a global representation.

Our methods are empirical, heavy on technology. Sextants, astrolabes, ring dials, chronometers. Our understanding of the world requires satellites. Global Positioning System. Automatic Radar Plotting Aid. Electronic Chart Display and Information System. Long Range Identification and Tracking.

Bees have figured things out abstractly. They’ve evolved the honey of cognition into cells of active memory.

Sleep will sometimes carry us to distant places and leave us there until the tides of consciousness rise and we awaken to a new life, or an old life with a new interpretation, something like Petula Clark singing “La Nuit n’en finit plus.”

The pendulum, meanwhile, swings back and forth. A biography trembles with seagulls. Sandy eyelids judge the Salvation Army to be full of goodwill.

Flannel deepens our sense of tincture, how juicily the light of the chandeliers enchants the luster of music.

Wherever you go, there you are. My sentiment regarding cartilage is generally allegorical, as it should be. Allegory and bone are the fundaments of this narrative we call life. They structure narratives of illusion and truth. Plato’s cave. Orwell’s Animal Farm. The oranges are hypothetical, but we sense that their juices intend a communication of elves and algebra.

I may appear a little irrational at times, a bit unkempt, a little delirious, but I know a hawk from a handsaw when the winds are southerly.

I was thrown into this life like everyone else by a set of circumstances unique to the time in which I entered this world. War was one, the splitting of the atom another. Bombers, uniforms, raging dictators. The film footage suggested that humanity had gone insane. But we had television to comfort us. If you want to call Howdy Doody comforting.

Whatever life may be about, it’s certainly interesting. Percussion stirs the air. A rhinoceros adorned in rubies stands in the Kenyan rain.

Ghosts bring us the soft light of other dimensions. Our speech thickens into wax, malleable transparencies that will sustain a small flame of listening cognition. Whatever consciousness is, it’s been having a good swim in our heads. Our eyes shine all afternoon, renewed by the smell of rain.


—Reprinted with author’s permission from his blog, Tillalala Chronicles (1 August 2018)

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