KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Lyrical CNF: 968 words [R]
Climate Crisis

Beckett 88

by John Olson

I’m looking for a good exoplanet. Earth is finished. It’s been trashed by humans. I need to get out while the going is good. We may get our first blue ocean event this summer. If you think the weather is crazy now, you haven’t seen anything yet. Goodbye food security, hello famine. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any listings at Red Fin, Trulia, or Zillow. The best source I have right now is Wackypedia. Wackypedia is the wackier version of Wikipedia. The information is roughly the same, it’s just wackier. Wacky is good when you’re looking for an exoplanet. The margin is wider, the ceiling is higher, and there’s less resistance to the restraints of logic. Logic isn’t going to get me where I need to go. I need to travel long distances. For that, I’ll need lots of logorrhea. A Winnebago RV capable of space travel and a ton or so of pepperoni sticks.

A recent review ascertained that the exoplanets Kepler-62f, Kepler-186f, and Kepler-442b were currently the best candidates for being potentially habitable. But habitable by whom? Habitable by me. My wife and cat. A murder of crows and a washing machine. There are few restaurants or laundromats in space.

By space, I mean outer space. The cold black void on the other side of our atmosphere. Once you get out of Earth’s gravity, hold on to your hat. There’s not much out there except neutrinos, asteroids, and comets. I’m hoping we might discover a Motel 6 on Pluto, but once we get past the Kuiper Belt, it’s doubtful we’ll stumble upon a Denny’s or Applebee’s. And the likelihood of a Best Western or Four Seasons is abysmal. Outer space is long on distance and short on amenities. We’ll need plenty of fortitude, ingenuity, and towels.

Kepler-62f is 1,200 light-years distant from planet Earth. I’m guessing I can do it in about 1,500 light-years if I can get the Winnebago near to the speed of light. I won’t have to worry about detours or traffic.

Kepler-62f has a radius and mass bigger than Earth, so we’ll weigh a lot more. That’s important to consider when building a house. A rambler with no upper floors might work. The equilibrium temperature on Kepler-62f is a chilly minus 85°F. I’m definitely bringing a coat. The good news is that it most likely has a rocky surface. It receives roughly the same amount of sunlight as Mars, which isn’t a lot, but if we stay indoors watching whatever reruns are drifting around in outer space, who cares.

Kepler-186f is a little closer at 582 light-years from Earth. It has a radius similar to Earth’s and orbits a red dwarf. I’m not sure how I’d feel about orbiting a red dwarf, but it’s got an orbital period of 129.9 days, which means more birthdays.

Proxima Centauri b is the closest, at 4.24 light-years away. It, too, orbits a red dwarf. As yet, its radius and mass have not been calculated. This is discouraging. It also gets 2,000 times the stellar wind pressures of Earth, which is enough to blow any atmosphere away. I’m guessing Proxima Centauri b is just not what we’re looking for in a potentially habitable exoplanet. We’d have better luck in Arkansas.

Kepler-442b is more promising. It’s 1,206 light-years distant in the constellation Lyra. It’s got a radius and mass bigger than Earth, meaning surface gravity would be about 30% stronger. It receives about 70% of the sunlight on Earth. These statistics are not filling me with excitement. I’m beginning to get that feeling when I go on virtual tours of homes for sale, and cheesy rock posters are still on the walls and toys and socks litter the floor. It’s as if the realtor was too demoralized to stage it properly.

I think we can do better than Kepler-442b.

Steppenwolf is a planet in the Triangulum Galaxy. It has an unscrupulously rocky surface and a fat shiny atmosphere of whisky and Benzedrine. The climates are nuts, but the oceans are lush harmonies of jelly and hallucination. It orbits a red giant reeking of garlic and motor oil. It is among the closest of exoplanets, only a magic carpet ride away from all that is holy and vivid and born to be wild.

Wishful Thinking is an opulent ball of congenial rock and clay in the forearm of the Dumbbell Nebula. This is a fixer-up planet. The drywall is crumbling and the orbit is decaying.

Planet 9 is actually my index finger in an astronomy textbook. I’m trying to understand celestial mechanics. I thought it had something to do with belly dancing. I was wrong. It’s all about prairie, convenience, and fondue. Community is so important. Unless you hate people. That’s the beauty of space travel: the isolation. The long hours of navigation punctuated by quiet interludes of masturbation.

I like Beckett 88. Beckett 88 is a planet in the Molloy constellation. It glows like a candle in the pineal gland of a chipmunk, alluring and gloriously unscientific. It has the mass of a black opal and a radius similar to the hormone of a beautiful green wind. The surface varies from the bald round head of a granite Sibelius to the soft white sand of an unnamable soap. Water is abundant and forests of fluorescent beauty wink and glimmer in the light of a giant red moon. It orbits a white dwarf named Smutty every 400 days and each day is 400 hours long and four days wide. Temperatures vary from 65°F in the far north near the pole and 82°F near the equator. I think this may be the place. As soon as I get there I’ll plant the flag of indolence and claim it in the name of all that is good and lazy.

—Reprinted with author’s permission from his blog, Tillalala Chronicles (21 April 2019)

Publisher’s Note:

From a companion piece Olson wrote the previous year: “The world is broken. We broke it. We broke the weather. We broke the oceans. We broke the lakes and forests. We broke the animals. We broke the insects. We broke the dirt. We broke Greenland. We broke privacy and solitude. We broke silence and fog. We broke the sky. The jet stream and polar vortices have gone insane. They howl their way around the world like Slinkys on methamphetamine. Catastrophic floods in France. Eight years of drought in California. Iguanas dropping out of the trees in Florida. I don’t think we’ll be getting our deposit back.” Read more in Planet Hunting in Tillalala Chronicles (25 February 2018).

John Olson
Issue 12, Summer 2019

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.”

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Featured Author John Olson in Issue 8 of KYSO Flash

Tillalala Chronicles, Olson’s blog (from which Five Commentaries on Imminent Doom are excerpted in Issue 9 of KYSO Flash)

Six Prose Poems by Olson in Alligatorzine (Issue 64); includes “Words and Warts and Puppets With Cleavage” and “Why I Never Wear Suspenders”

John Olson Interview by Matthew Burnside at BOAAT Press (18 December 2014); includes this Q&A excerpt:

Burnside: Your writing can be very funny at times. Some of your titles alone are funnier than most jokes I’ve heard (“Smack That Pickle Against the Ribs” + “All Labial and Hard from Jackhammer Drool” + “Bubbles Yell in the Louvre” + “Words and Warts and Puppets with Cleavage” + “Fuck Daylight”). How important is comedy in poetry?

Olson: Very. I’m a closet stand-up comic. I keep my clothes in stitches.

John Olson: A Poet of Excess and Expansion by Christopher Frizelle in The Stranger, “Genius Awards” (14 October 2004):

...Olson is a poet of excess and expansion. His best poems are rich, sturdy, absurd, startling, tightly strung, and scattershot.

...A central theme in [his] work is dislocation—usually the dislocation between feeling and science, or feeling and neutrality, or the extreme agility and awful futility of language—and there is a way in which Olson seems dislocated in time and space. His presence seems implausible. He knows this....

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