KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
CNF/Prose Poem: 866 words [R]

Legends of the Mailbox

by John Olson

Think of a lung. This is where it all starts. Words. Breath. A membranous sac. Two of them. Nature does everything in twos. Two legs. Two arms. Two ears. Two eyes. Two lungs. Almost all. There’s the matter of the nose. A singular organ, mounted importantly in the center of the face, protruding imperially and irrefutably into the oceanic dominion of space and time like the bow of a ship, but with two little nostrils. Two little holes. One of them—the cavities around the nasal passage, a labyrinth of thin-walled chambers (labyrinthus ethmoidalis) interposed between two vertical plates of bone (nasal septum)—is often clogged. If I’m in bed trying to sleep, the air begins to burn in the good one. The free passage. It helps to turn, lie on my other side, and breathe through the other nostril, as soon as it opens.

Words are made of breath. Air is the central ingredient. It becomes breath as soon as it enters the lungs. It enters the alveoli (air sacs) and passes to the surrounding capillaries, which moves oxygen into the blood, and so nourishes the brain, which is always hungry for news and adventure. It becomes a string of words as soon as the mouth and tongue shape the breath into currents of meaning and the larynx gives it all a vibration and the cerebral cortex bothers itself with pertinence and meaning. The proper sounds. The proper structure. The proper weight and inflection. If you’re lucky, someone might actually be listening. They may sigh with acknowledgment. They may nod vigorously in agreement. They may look quizzical, or irritated. They may concede to your desires, or slap your face. Who knows? People are weird. Their language makes them weird. Which came first? Human beings or language?

I believe that language shaped our destiny. Our physique. This whole bipedal operation. Two legs carrying us forward and backward and jumping to put a ball in a basket. It’s a belief. It’s a conception I have. A mindset. A position. A caboose on my train.

Who hasn’t been swallowed by a belief? You find it in all kinds of correspondence, at least from the past. People articulating beliefs in letters. Ideas, declamations, unicorns. A good word: correspondence. Meaning connection, alliance, accord. Exchanging letters. One imagines an inkpot and a quill. The lone rider of a pony express. A guy like Charles Bukowski delivering the mail on a hot Los Angeles afternoon. It seems dated. Obsolete. People don’t correspond anymore. Correspondence has gone the way of the dodo.

I miss correspondence. I miss getting letters typed on paper. I could feel the letters. The impact of the typebar on the ribbon indented the paper. When you held a letter in your hand you could feel the impact on the other side of the paper. I could almost read them like braille. Language was tangible.

Although letters were most often written by hand. It seems so quaint now. You could see the fetus of an idea evolve by longhand into noodles of wishful chitchat.

There are correspondences to all sorts of things. Externalized. Thoughts were materialized. They had substance and tread. Telephone cable and horse hair.

I miss corresponding to salt. To bread. To the heat of an idea. To the things of this world. Phenomena. The slosh of water in a bathtub. Waves are sequential occurrences of energy. The same way an airplane venerates the air with the shape of its wings.

Shape is essential for the reproductive success of cells, and the obscurities of the Fun House. These include distortion mirrors, snakes, aliens with laser guns, flying pigs, and the tendrils of declension: noun, pronoun, or adjective. We get entangled in them all the time but you can’t assemble a semi-coherent idea without these instruments. Soliloquys make good house pets. But you’ve got to feed them words or they wander into darkness and are lost forever. An unkempt intolerance is sometimes better than a woeful compliance. Thinking makes the head speak. The words come out into the light of day and startle the houseguests. Does anyone want pancakes? Pancakes are the metaphysics of breakfast. But butter is the birth of meaning.

So much for the Fun House. It may not be fun for everybody. There is a sense of things that some people have, and many people do not. You know who you are.

There’s an area of the garden where I can feel my senses rise to the occasion and fill me with cadence. There’s a rhythm in the way the earth yields its luggage to the grip of our attention. We step back and consider the white chickens beside the wheelbarrow which is glazed with rainwater. So much depends on a curandero with a sparrow in a red sombrero. What I find in the past can sometimes be applied to crystal. We often get dappled during our ensemble. It looks pretty. Oh well. Here comes the night. I can see it striding over the mountains to the west. Its phantoms already walk among us, legends of the mailbox, the faint scent of heaven commingled among their letters.

—Reprinted with author’s permission from his blog, Tillalala Chronicles (5 May 2019)

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