whimsical chaos–introduction by Krysia Jopek
The poems and flash fiction of published American novelist and poet Jon Wesick–create intricately-scaffolded/layered worlds/microcosms. His acute linguistic precision (his language is highly “textured”), rendered in colloquial American English that is (misleadingly) readily accessible/seemingly “transparent” to readers– startles/surprises/arrests–with bizarre turns of whimsy, logic, political commentary, and “poetic density.”
Please enjoy this diaphanous micro issue, 3.4–finally an answer by Jon Wesick!
< < < new poetry by Jon Wesick
ITALO CALVINO EXPLAINS DOGEN’S MOUNTAINS AND WATER’S SUTRA
I don’t mind green mountains
wearing fedoras of clouds
or eastern peaks dipping toes in the surf.
But when they play basketball,
they slam the full moon against the backboard
sending my terrified dachshund
scampering under the bed.
For centuries the wise have escaped
this racket by moving to the river.
While some see water
as a smorgasbord for sushi lovers
or bachelor pad for horny dolphins,
the sage knows it as a raw ingredient
* * *
between the pancakes, recriminations
in the coffee. She pours suspicion
in a juice glass. He spreads excuses
on the toast, passes the butter dish of abuse.
Eggs stare in awkward silence.
Heaping home fries of denial.
* * *
An inventor modified AR-15s to accept
PEZ dispensers in their magazine feeds.
Fighters traded boxing gloves
for teddy bears; doctors
discovered chocolate and espresso
worked better than surgery; and Cuddle Ryu,
a new martial art, swept the nation.
Cops traded pistols for squirt guns
loaded with craft beer and disarmed
suspects with the phrase,
“You look like you need a hug.”
States converted prisons to animal shelters
burying inmates in squirming puppies.
The military joined in. Cruisers
bombarded shores with blueberry muffins.
The Air Force dyed its uniforms purple
and re-purposed Minuteman II missiles
to deliver pizza in thirty minutes or less.
with SS-19s loaded with kasha and pirozhki.
Not to be outdone, North Korea sent bottles
of fiery soju marching across the DMZ
after exploding its largest rice-and-kimchi bomb yet.
Smallpox and Ebola mutated
so the worst that sufferers could expect
would be a mild, paisley rash.”
so the worst sufferers could expect
was a mild, paisley rash.
Hurricanes apologized, dropping granola bars
and bottled water in their paths.
The San Andreas Fault
worked off its aggression
by swaying to the Grateful Dead.
in a fiction writer’s mind
swarthy terrorists kidnapped
the president’s daughter
and forced her to pole dance
on a burning American flag.
Noting the remote control’s power button
existed for just such an emergency
a top CIA analyst acted.
to a glowing, white dot
on the TV screen.
* * *
In the beginning was nothing
and nothing was carefree.
Then nothing thought
it would be nice to have something.
Then came rocks and stars
along with the responsibility
of obeying the laws of physics.
And the rocks and stars thought
“This is boring.”
Then came life
along with the responsibility
of eating, excreting,
And life thought
“This is boring.”
Then came intelligence
along with the responsibility
of paying student loans
and saving for retirement.
And intelligence thought
“This is boring”
and longed again to be
* * *
PLAINS OF ABRAHAM
With macaroons, duck confit, and maple syrup at stake,
I reenact General Wolfe’s conquest of French Canada.
Backed by divisions of tourist dollars and a robust
exchange rate, my anglais marches north
toward the français’ fortress atop a fifty-meter cliff
(but anglais doesn’t know what a meter is).
A fusillade of unintelligible vocabulary
repels my attempted landing at Tim Hortons.
Grilled cheese and two-dollar coin in hand,
I flee to my voiture, abandoning my latte
in a panicked retreat.
My anglais gains a foothold in a hotel.
Behind makeshift defenses of cable TV
streaming CBC news and old reruns
of Murder She Wrote, my ego prefers
the blood-soaked glove of genocide
to the shame of standing carp-mouthed
at some incomprehensible phrase.
Scouts report parapets of unpronounced consonants,
howitzers of passé composé, mortars of gendered nouns,
muskets of strange accent marks, and field guns
of adjectives following nouns. I know
what I must do.
In dress uniform
I march to the nearest pâtisserie
and stammering my first, halting
words in a foreign tongue,
lay down my sword.
* * *
atop two hundred tons of explosives
that will rocket them free
from gravity’s hidebound views.
A martial-arts master
shifts his body millimeters,
dodging a razor-sharp
whirlwind of steel
that barely ruffles
his silk kimono.
Scientists focus massive lasers
on a peppercorn of hydrogen
and bring a star to earth.
A Zen master’s thoughts still,
in the anechoic chamber of his mind,
revealing the motherboard
(as perhaps fitting)
are only my stuffy nose,
bursitis, tattered blue couch,
and unpacked moving boxes.
The sun sets
in the winter, gray sky
while a frozen burrito warms
in the microwave.
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from Jon Wesick's full-length book of poetry
Words of Power, Dances of Freedom
(Garden Oak Press 2015)
WORDS OF POWER, DANCES OF FREEDOM
A woman sets a plastic bag in front of the stage
and puts her purse inside. Her gray hair hangs
to the small of her back and her blue, summer dress
covers a body that is slender but losing the curves at its hips.
Arms now free she dances when the band begins.
Her right foot touches. She lifts it, then plants,
and pivots her body one full turn.
Touch, plant, pivot, touch, plant, pivot.
Uninhibited by onlookers and at ease
she glides across Pioneer Square.
A crippled man in a motorized wheelchair is there too.
His body is a wreck – slumped posture, tongue protruding,
and neck bent locking ear to shoulder. The woman
takes his twisted hand, moves in and away
shortening and extending her arm to keep contact
dancing a modified Western Swing. The crippled man
fingers the controls. His chair dances forward and back.
She twirls. The chair circles. The two orbit
and for a moment infirmity is forgotten
first published in Magee Park Poets Anthology
* * *
DILETTANTE ZEN POEM
The real Zen students were sitting in full lotus before dawn
wearing their black robes and rakusu1.
I stayed up too late watching TV.
Real Zen students don’t have TV’s.
Eventually I wake up,
light a candle on the altar,
and kneel on my meditation bench.
A gasoline powered edger begins its serenade,
and a lawnmower joins in the chorus.
By now the real Zen students are constructing monastery buildings,
working with the dying, or reaching out to the homeless.
I drive to my wrong livelihood job,
where I’m harassed by my wrong livelihood boss.
Real Zen students call this “good training.”
I call it a pain in the ass.
Real Zen students vow to return to this world of patience
for countless lifetimes to save all beings.
I wonder how I’ll get through another day.
I’ve given up trying to be a real Zen student.
I think I’ll become a dilettante instead.
If you’d like to be one too,
we meet at 7:00 most nights in the meditation hall.
1. A rakusu is the bib like garment worn by Zen teachers and students.
This poem appeared in the Three Treasures Zen Community News in December 1998, The Thinking Post Anthology of Haiku and Zen Poetry in October 1998, PATHS, Vol 1/2007, and in the Sounds of Solace Anthology edited by Nick Haler of Local Gems Press, November 2013. It also appeared on Art and Zen Today April 23, 2016.
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photography by Jon Wesick
images of quebec city 2018
< < < new flash fiction by Jon Wesick
Commodity of Dreams
The white noise of background conversations flooded the exhibit hall, drowning out all other sound. All the major publishers were there from the big, New York houses to the university presses and independents. D. Comm Press had a huge display with wall-high shelves and Chester A. Author signed copies of his fantasy series for eager customers to take to the cash registers. With his shaved head and gold earring, he looked like Mr. Clean with a fountain pen. I wanted to look at the latest in the Skateboard Armageddon series but couldn’t elbow my way through the crowd. I suppose it was a good thing. People were reading, after all. I put a catalog in my canvas, tote bag and moved on.
The book displays consisted of a dozen rows each fifty exhibits deep. I stopped at stands offering free book marks, pens, and even cookies. A small press out of Iowa offered free copies of its magazine. I took two. I passed up a historian hyping his new biography of Millard Fillmore and briefly thought of re-subscribing to a comic I used to get.
I was about to make another circuit when I spotted a poster with my name on it in the far corner by the bathrooms and water fountain. Underneath sat a thin man with a single paperback lying on the cloth-covered table. Wrinkled, translucent skin that showed the veins underneath betrayed his age as did his threadbare shirt and graying beard. Since my name is unique, it couldn’t be a mistake. It had to be some kind of joke. Expecting my laughing friends to spring out from behind the curtains, I approached.
“Now that I’ve found you, I can finally return to my wife and family.” The thin man’s voice was high and reedy, almost as if it came from another world.
“What is this?” The cover showed a picture of me as I might look in twenty years. I turned the book over in my hands. There were no reviews or plot summary on the back.
“A book written only for you.”
“You don’t understand how the publishing business works.” I chuckled. “You need to print more copies, man!”
“Anyone else would find this work boring and incomprehensible. For you, it is a magic spell. The first pages will enter your bloodstream like a slow-acting poison. If you reach the antidote in the final chapter, you will attain your deepest, most secret wish.”
“How much?” I asked.
The thin man wrote the price on a notepad and showed it to me.
“That’s very expensive.”
“It barely compensates for my toil. Do you know how many hours I spent reading public records and interviewing your friends and family to get insight into your character? Or how many months I struggled to craft a premise that would unlock your heart? I suffered a dozen false starts and spent years at a lonely desk before I had a rough draft. It took three more revisions to forge the plot into something plausible yet surprising. Another two to get the characters right. And then ten more to make the language sing. Then there were months of painstaking editing, not to mention the cost of cover art and printing.”
I didn’t buy it. For what the thin man was asking, I could get a hundred books. Besides, I was in the mood for something lighter, maybe an adventure. Vampires are really hot right now. And teen romances.
* * *
Finally, an Answer
After a painful, lingering death, you anticipate God’s revelation. Why was Joanie taken from you? Why did your career flounder after reporting Mr. Blumtrapster’s fraud while he went on to become CEO with a private jet and photo on the cover of Forbes magazine? Your life had to have meant something.
You wake in a waiting room. Gray carpet. Gray walls. The comfortable chairs are cloth-covered and gray. A coffee machine and bowl of plastic K-cups sit on a table in the corner. You stand to get a cup but the instructions are in Aramaic. It’s just as well because each of the two-dozen K-cups is marshmallow-cinnamon mocha.
You’re not alone. A disembodied, scarlet-robed monk sits in lotus position on the opposite side of the room and a receptionist types on a laptop at a standing desk behind a bowl of chocolate-covered, marshmallow Easter eggs.
“His meeting’s running a little late,” she says.
“How much longer?” you ask.
“Time means nothing here.”
“Is He even real?” You look around and realize there’s no exit.
“Do you believe He’s real?”
* * *
When teaching at the London School of Economics, Karl Popper noticed a strange undergraduate student auditing his lectures. One day the student lingered after class and spoke to Popper.
“I am not an undergraduate student. In reality, I am the Endowed Professor of Buddhist Epistemology at the East Lhasa Community College. When a student asked me if karma, the law of moral cause and effect, was falsifiable, I said it was. Because of my error, I have been forced to spend five hundred semesters repeating Philosophy of Science 101. Can you utter a turning word that will free me from this tedium?”
“I can,” Popper said.
“Is karma, with its past causes coming even before birth, falsifiable?” the undergraduate asked.
“No,” Popper replied. “As Wolfgang Pauli would say such a theory is not even wrong.”
“Thank you. I am now free.” The undergraduate handed Popper a textbook. “I’d appreciate it if you would return this to the campus bookstore. You may keep the deposit.”
Popper returned the book and related the undergraduate’s story to the staff.
Kurt Gödel asked, “Is the story you told falsifiable?”
“Stand still and I’ll show you.” Popper reached for the Colt 1911 under his robe.
Sensing deception, Gödel drew his Heckler and Koch 9mm and fired two rounds into Popper’s chest.
“2001: A Space Odyssey, Monte Python’s Holy Grail.” Popper clutched his chest. “It sucks when writers substitute distraction for a proper conclusion.”
Innocents suffer while the guilty
grow rich? Past lives.
Sideswiped by a bus?
You must have fibbed in kindergarten.
Einstein shuffles Tarot cards.
Carl Sagan reads his horoscope.
Karl Popper was a well-known philosopher of science. The cornerstone of his thinking was the idea of “falsifiability.” That is, one can never prove a theory because one can never test everything. However, a scientific theory must make specific predictions that can be proven wrong. If tests confirm these predictions, we gain confidence in the theory. Kurt Gödel was a mathematician who proved the famous Incompleteness Theorem. As such he here symbolizes knowledge outside the realm of mathematical proof and logic.
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Ontology of Dreams
artist statement by Jon Wesick
Twenty years ago none of the stories I saw in media reflected the reality I experienced. For example, why was it so hard to find a job after I spent ten years in college studying physics? I was on my career plan C or D, when I developed carpal-tunnel-like injuries. At the time, it was impossible for me to type on the computer for more than a few minutes a day, and thus impossible to keep my job. Doctors treated me with suspicion, and the insurance company thought one paycheck was enough to compensate me for a ruined career.
I couldn’t do much at my martial arts class, so I filled my time with poetry. I’d had a few experiences with poems exploding out of me after Zen meditation, and I remember watching a PBS documentary about Beat writers, outcasts really, riding around in Jack Kerouac’s car. It was the only place they found acceptance. Not long after that when meditating, I got an image of Allen Ginsberg saying, “I’ll help you.”
I took my poems to open mics in San Diego and discovered a vibrant community of eccentric writers. I owe special gratitude to Chris Vannoy. He was THE MAN in San Diego poetry, and he treated me as an equal. These were heady days. I’d stay up until 4:00 AM filling legal pads, drinking green tea, and reading Bukowski. Eventually, I wrote a story or two. Then I had perhaps the silliest, most wrong-headed idea I’d ever had. If I could write a novel, then fame and money were sure to follow.
I consider myself a servant of the idea. Much of my writing consists of exploring the consequences of some goofy concept. I like to somehow make these inspirations real by writing them down. My other mode of writing is a kind of reporting. My interests and experiences are different than most people’s. This is my way of coming back and telling about them. You’ll find both in this micro issue. Thanks to Krysia Jopek for putting it together.
< < < biographical note
Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual and host of the Gelato Poetry Series, “the best ice cream parlor poetry reading” in Southern California. He’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals, such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Metal Scratches, Pearl, Slipstream, Space and Time, Tales of the Talisman, and Zahir. His poem “Bread and Circuses” won second place in the 2007 African-American Writers and Artists Contest. The editors of Knot Magazine nominated his story “The Visitor” for a Pushcart Prize in Short Fiction in 2015. His poem “Meditation Instruction” won the Editor’s Choice Award in the 2016 Spirit First Contest. “Richard Feynman’s Commute” shared third place in the 2017 Rhysling Award’s Short Poem category. Krysia Jopek nominated “Tee Time at Aleppo” for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry 2018. Jon is the author of the full-length poetry collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom, several novels, as well as (most recently) the short-story collection The Alchemist’s Grandson Changes His Name. Please feel free to visit Jon’s website to learn more about him–Jon Wesick’s website
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to more publications by Jon Wesick
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