KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Prose Poem: 547 words [R]

The Mystery of Grocery Carts

by John Olson

I am sitting in the car reading Russell Edson. It’s raining heavily. Roberta has gone into the grocery store for whipped cream and lettuce. The car is parked in a large parking lot. Water flows down the windshield in blurry sheets through which I can barely make out the red neon sign across Queen Anne Avenue North that says Hot Subs Elliott Bay Pizza Company. A man in a blue shirt gets into a blue Dodge and drives away. A younger man in a green Volkswagen Rabbit with a crushed left fender takes his place. A man walks past with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip and I wonder how he has managed to keep the cigarette going all this way in such heavy rain. He is almost finished with it. He stubs it out and goes into the grocery store. I look to the left and notice beads of water dripping from the wires of the grocery cart. Wait a minute. Are they wires or rods? Is there a word for that particular part of the grocery cart anatomy? Would they more properly be described as bars? Crosspieces? Crossbars? Meshwork? Web-work? Reticulum? I suddenly realize how arbitrary and limited language can be. The inability to describe the framework of a grocery cart, or the way the water descends the windshield, or the contrast between the poplars wavering in front of a gray sky, the acutely delineated branches of the poplars against the amorphous gray of the sky, which isn’t actually gray, but more of an opalescent off-white, with here and there deepening areas of gray that diffuse into the white. Perhaps I could say the sky holds the garrulity of milk in its murmur of rain and oxygen. The meat of the air sings to the mud of the earth and as the rain splatters against the glass of the windshield, the emotional life of the sky describes itself as a rubber band of deep silence stretching into the galaxies in which the gentle truth of apple blossoms are invented in troughs of promiscuous ambiguity.

But none of this solves the true problem at hand which is what to call the rods or wires on the framework of a grocery cart. And when did the grocery cart first enter human history? Did the Sumerians use grocery carts? Did the Babylonians use grocery carts? Is the grocery cart an adjunct of the automobile? Do the nomads of Mauritania long to push grocery carts? Why do so many grocery carts find themselves lying in creeks and culverts and roadside ditches? Where are grocery carts produced? Is there a city known for its production of grocery carts? Is there a Detroit of grocery carts?

Roberta returns to the car with whipped cream and lettuce and a bunch of other stuff. “Where to now,” I say. “Let’s go to the video store,” she answers. I start the car and we leave. I say nothing about grocery carts. I decide to leave the mystery of grocery carts alone for a while. My thoughts turn instead to the complexities of driving, and the fathomless mystery of gas, and combustion, and what movie to rent, and the harsh yet wonderful glow of taillights in spring rain.


—Previously published in Olson’s collection, Backscatter (Black Widow Press, 2008); appears here with permissions from the author and the publisher

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