Tanya Olson

Four Poems from Boyishly

First Books IV
Volume 16:2, Spring 2015

Notes from Jonah’s Lecture Series

Inside the whale, it is as if
you have always been inside a whale,
as if there is only inside the whale.
It is as if there was before the whale
and now. And in now
you will always be inside a whale.

Inside the whale, you do not understand
why you are inside a whale. It is even difficult
to determine it is a whale. You may recall
the sea, and the ship, and going over the side,
but the what you never saw. (Q—What is
the hardest angle for identifying whales?
A—From inside the whale.)

From inside the whale, you cannot guide
the whale. A whale will do as a whale will do.
You may throw your body to one side
or another to try to steer the whale;
you may attempt to use the power
of your mind to influence the whale.
Your mind is of a greater capacity
than the whale’s mind, but again,
a whale will do what a whale will do.

When inside the whale, it is best to be
inside the whale. Do what you are inside
the whale to do. Of course, you may use
only what was with you when thrown
overboard. No one packs to go inside
the whale. However, you should not try
to agitate the whale. It doesn’t help
if the whale ejects you too far from shore.
Unfortunately, you have forgotten about shore
and think there is only inside the whale.

When you find yourself inside a whale,
meditate and practice journeys
to outside the whale. Know these
are skills that must be rehearsed
before needed. Hear the pitch
in his tenuous rumble, taste the acid
of his gentle lurp. Consider the feel
of baleen brushing against skin
and the way his rough tongue reopens
your atrophied, unremembered eyes.cover

Eight Masculine Dreams of Charles Olson

dreamed I was a big tall man dreamed I drove
through Richmond never getting lost dreamed
I lay in the heat of Seven Sisters dreamed I was
the latest in the line of Byrds dreamed it was
the day of my recrudescence

dreamed I mapped the Great Dismal dreamed
Creeley surveyed while I mopped his eye
dreamed I made love to a younger sister
and made her in love with me while I intended
to get the older
dreamed Hope
became a name for a boy

dreamed I was the first American suicide bomber
dreamed I buried Baby Charles Peter in the garden
and from his head grew beans dreamed I ate
those beans and gave birth to Baby Charles Peter

dreamed I did that thing you asked would I do
for you if you would do that thing for me
dreamed of our love’s quiescence dreamed
my sins were many dreamed my sufferings few
dreamed I was one of the Lost Boys of Lee Marvin
dreamed I was a bastard son of Johnny Cash

Our Beautiful Giant

Before Number 1 was gone. That’s how soon
it began. How soon I began to dream.
Dream what the town could be like
with him in it. What my world
would be like with him in it.
How it would feel like Bible times.
Like long ago times. Times when giants
strode the earth.

By Number 16, he was already legend.
Not so much for the number he drank
but for the way he drank them. For how little
the bottle looked in his hand.
For how frustrated he grew
with the bottle’s narrow neck.
Which is why I became the first
to speak. You might want to try
a Mickey’s. Those ones come in a widemouth

Number 32 and everybody’s on talking terms
as he taught us things to say in French.
Abottage for Johnny Blue who came in
off shift from the chicken plant. Un bourrique
to Johnny Britt, who swore he’d whooped bigger
one night off base. Et patati
et patata
when Britt wouldn’t stop
his jawing, and after Britt hit him,
un plouc, as he pressed Britt over his head
and lobbed him out the door. We handed him
Number 53 and he was ours.
Our beautiful giant.
Like one man standing stop another.
Two men stapled side by side.

Number 76 found him spinning tales.
He drove me to school when I no longer
fit on the bus. ‘Dede’ he called me,
like the play he wrote.
It was theater, you see. With him,
it was all theater. ‘A country road.
A tree. Evening,’
and then
he gave what we came to know
as Lucky’s speech The skull
the skull in Connemara

Ellerbe is a place where a man
feels appreciated
he announced
before Number 94 and I swear
my heart swole with the promise
when he and Johnny Locklear
shook on a price for the farm
over Number 109. No gift is bestowed
but the Lord has done it
Locklear prayed.
We thank you for the mighty weapon
you have delivered upon this town tonight.

Number 156 and we’d run out of beer
and though this could have turned our giant,
he stayed. Though he could have
wreaked vengeance and destroyed us all
with a flick, with a blow, with his rage,
he didn’t, he never did. He merely
laid down his head and slept. And that spot
was his for years until he died there
a few months back. Blood probably wore out
it had to travel so far: One hell of a trip
the length of him
was Britt’s theory.

When little girls in this town
jump rope they sing
A pot of tea
A spotted dog
and the giant falls

My Love is Green, America

You can die with a giant wad of love
jammed up in your heart, your heart
a mine shaft stuffed full of sub-bituminous coal
no one thinks worth taking. Everyone else
can find a miner to scuttle out their veins.
Everyone else has a miner who shows up for work daily
and chops and blasts and digs and hauls
and there is runoff and poisoned water occasionally,
but that is just the cost of change in America.
Decapitated mountains are the price
we are willing to pay for love in America.
But no one, no one has ever been
adversely affected by a shaft collapse
or pitching seams in my heart. No one has died
or become trapped there. There is no need
to send down a canary because I am green.
My love is green, America. My love is sustainable.
It burns clean. It has its own czar
and a series of commercials urging you to adopt it
as a lifestyle. It has a marketing team
constructing eye-catching symbols
you too can attach to your packaging
to make you more attractive because
whether they ever act on it or not, when asked,
American consumers express an interest
in purchasing green products. But a sad, true fact
is they may be lying. They may only be stating
what they wish could be true, imagining a person
they wish they could be—an American who consumes
green products—but in real life, they may not be bothered
to keep a bin or compost or recycle.
And here is one other sad, true, ecological fact.
Some things of the earth remain in the earth.
They live and die in the earth. Some things of the earth
just lie in the earth, hardening, unrecognized,
and those things of the earth know that only inches
keep them from experiences like bird and soft and weather.
Those things of the earth just lie in the earth
hoping one day they will be something other
than of the earth. But a sad, true, ecological fact is
you can die having never left a grave of earth.
The sad, true, ecological fact is if you die
from your heart being jammed full of love
your heart will still be making more love
right up to the second you die. It is just a fact.
You can die with a giant wad of love jamming up your heart.

YesYes Books is a literary press based in Portland, OR. The press publishes full-length books selected through direct solicitation, an annual open reading period, and the Pamet River Prize Series to showcase emerging female-identifying poets. They also publish chapbooks through their Vinyl 45 Series.


Tanya Olson is the author of Boyishly (YesYes Books, 2013), winner of the 2014 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Other awards include an Emerging Voices Fellowship from the Lambda Literary Foundation and a Discovery/Boston Review Prize. Olson lives in Silver Spring, MD and teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.