back toJacket2

Jacket 16 — March 2002   |   # 16  Contents   |   Homepage   |    

Jeni Olin

Seven poems


Thanks for the novel on Catherine the Great.
I was greatly relieved to discover there are fates
far worse than blackness, the clap. Though
nobody knows what they are...
& so come to shepherd me across a stretch of wicked terrain
more limp-wristed wives blackballed from the Bath & Tennis Club.
“O the girls used to dot their i’s with hearts” & their hearts just
break like chocolate, sharp & warm
& exclusive like after-swim bowel movements.
White Castle burgers. High-class poo-poo.
I am assaulted by a cohesive mass
of confidence & steal lines, long & thin
like stringy hemorrhoids or cowboy ties.
I choose not to think of it as plagiarism but as “synchronicity” as in:
Christ was born on a bank
holiday & died on a bank
holiday & I’m worrying about my hedge fund
when a voice blurts out, You could have got salvation,
tri-color pasta if you had waited but since you acted
the way you did you get nothing!

“Honey Kept Saying Primo Levi Was an Accident”

Honey kept saying Primo Levi was an accident
& “about as scary as a glass of orange juice”
Orange Jews he kept saying when I asked for a raise, high
& seedy love to be gathered & dispersed
like diaphanous monks or politics
I never wanted to fight the war against m.s.
I am trying to live with myself in critical care
in Chelsea room #224 minus the bladder control of cub scouts
Did a dog fall out that window I sort of understand
child leashes on Manhattan streets
like a bravura brushstroke, one little dash right here
& it’s all over I defend blindly whatever
brings me money. Well there’s nothing
wonderful in that I really should stop
with the queer diction it’s 1999 but I got laid
in heaven & must rage on as such
against the dying of the light, etc.

A Good Year Down

New York will not accept me at this weight &
mothers of the disappeared don’t come ’round
here anymore    I said you’re housekeeping aren’t you
with Lipton tea stains & the Establishment
seriously attracted He said  No
I’m turning down the beds   Now it’s my turn
in bed with a beautiful American rage
like brunettes with nightsweats    My love
semi-precious & stoned
in the shoulder season we hold on
thought I am dismal & have no dope
Siphoned off behind pink Easter
I fake an optimism
just to breathe    Just thinking of him for once &
The Wandering Jew that ate my sunshine
but I know flowers like Zorro was my dad
those garlands of thin hissing lasers
So with the “sexy isotherms
of Semiotics” we meet again at the Kiev
to check chemistry    They bring the lights
down on those cherry pies & like cryogenics
it sort of works    This time my love
the salt doll of night egging us on
straight to the zeppelin mooring
with she-has-a-bit-of-the-neardamned-in-her-
like-when-a-cloud-dies    construed as
Well, alright, I’ve seen worse

Vanishing Point

Depressed like cabin air & passing out
peach-tinted hygiene manuals
          on westside highway I lead men on
like the Virgil of the garment district:

Now this lovely structure on your right
is baby’s jeans & a struggling pyramid of girls & oh
well I understand his orphans with my gun like cinema verité

shot through with lower-functioning inmates –
          with the “inkings of Scandinavian malaise” & whatnot
I go see art & feel priceless but to be a good sport you have to lose
          & lose value like junk bonds he likes to “sit back & watch ‘em grow . . .”

The Met stuffed with alabaster tits I left alone, sexy & mightily unDutch

Mastered, set fire to a batik picture
          of Mother Chelsea the Pitiless who wasn’t sickle-
          cell white & incontinent & Dia-funded

I stood in his cloud shirt by myself

cursed to stalk the night through all eternity & original so on
through the small ballet company of stocking runs & upset

nuns down Sixth Avenue, John Wieners,
the Americas breaking apart so I can feel this sinuous & partial wind
          like lyme disease with a drip in the arm & the sky is falling.

High Art and Cedar


An artistic, unbalanced boy
          given to colitis, anorexia,
                    shingles, heartbreak, piles,
three chords for each disease,
          and after? Philip Glass
                    just wept & wept.
and what of me?
          “Fall.” I leaned down,
              knew you, boyish, angular,
over fish & chips
          as over the frozen corn fields,
                    a red sun rose
          in its insistence, touching,
         risqué in failure.

We did have a very nice time.

It would be so easy to stay but
          was it Sal Mineo in the doorframe?
                    I knew you felt like that.

And so my hell is hardly there.


Like a Goya noon
   of excessive leaf-drop
                    or an intense plate of oysters,
connecting a figure & a background,
          I am always sick
                    in time.
Too, there is space
                    thin as monks
between winter pines.
          They were sweet
                    when I pressured them
but we had to cry a lot.
          You could lose
           your mind in their loving
(monks, not pines)
as though it weren’t
                    the end of the world
of latchless aviaries.
          And the Beatrix Potter show
          we attended
at the Morgan Library –
                    the smudged mothers
                              muscular as dusk
in Tolstoy.
          It seems I resisted
                    when evening fell
myself, intensely Anna
          over the years,
to help care for Anna
          with her neurotic fear
                   of kids and sprinklers.


Our fragility, our bravado:
          Well, Christ, honey,
                    this hair and these words
are all we got.
          Enjoyable, yes;
        and so is divine Anna,
in her peeled doorlight, still
          in the throes
                    of a modernist
prejudice against
                    To say something obscure
and never return to it –
          a colophon of our indiscretions
        like the green carnations
of Oscar Wilde
          or the forgotten logic
                    of The Good Earth:
Why didn’t they just sell the farm
          and move to the city,
                    if it was all that bad?


          I seem to mean my lies
or that I so very much
          need this image
         not to be true:
a pile of wallboard,
          not yet unpacked
  outside the Howard Johnson’s
in Rochester
          and beside that,
                    a small girl sucking her thumb
through a frayed arm cast
          the color of mackerel.
                    “Elle n’est pas artiste,”
in definitive tones,
      her silence enervated
                    though porous
as tiny cork castles
                    in Chinatown


We were shanghai’ed into this
          meaning, a heritage of tears
                    particular to the hells
we’re peopled with.
          How is it then
                    I found you through skies
so bright if our veins
          hadn’t stolen
                    the purest blue first?
Milky, as dropped aspirin
          in a child’s sweaty hair,
                    like Vietnam:
“Never should have been there,
          seen such...” a vulgar comparison,
   I know that,
but to have renewed,
          with this error, the reckless sorrow
                    of a poem at its close,
as always, second from last
          in the sack race,
                    yours but only just.

Don't Send Me Flowers

My boyfriend, the Infidel, is dying of old age
so I am praying to Virginia Woolf to soften his heart.
I had to kill a lot of impulses to get to him & his point of misery.
A black cloud chased me with erotic intention then.
My vanity drove me to the ends of the earth
in search of nubile flesh & my runny little heart
slid back & forth along the glamour axis
that is the Rivers’ Divide – an iffy affair flecked with grief.
I fled to a Mexican isle just to lose my honky pallor
turn the faint & dirty mimeograph
red of nipples, die on the line if I recall
there was a bandaged harem somewhere in the background
brownout, sparklers, girls with organic breasts
ducking through oyster fog...
The subject of the mural was the Apocalypse & I think
you handled the destruction of the world
as gently as possible Honey I
am really bawling now, can’t get through –
we’re both sticking to our guns
but I’m loaded, really bombed, shot up
all night with the horrors though my cousin,
my gastroenterologist says I’m fine inside.

Blue Collar Holiday

And if I feel like a woman looming over Lautrec
with water weight & panties and murderous fuschia underfoot
those dying balloons on Job’s Lane sag around like saline breast implants
and pineal sunbeams sneak through my hair
dirty but focused as screwy detectives or Plexiglas
I go to pieces in my adolescent pine
amid blackheads, seltzer, a cold front
falling into a decline
like ladies on the prairies used to
in the klieg-lit house with the deodorant cakes in the upstairs johns
and the foam-core ass on “Bad Secretary” in the living room
and the foam-core bird paintings in the klieg-lit kitchen
warm & endangered as an Orca whale float,
pollen & Coronas, in the foggy autumn
and the thin nude branches all snow-furred
like an X-ray of infant bronchitis. Wrist-slitting stuff.
My honey chapstick stinks of piss & menstrual sharkfear
but like the alpha male in Brownie troops ankled in mud
I sit tight, coping, & spit. The Mormons taught me
to have fortitude when I am in the right & right now
I stand stalwart as lung-colored support hose
in a French sex & death-er for readers under twelve
My Indian name is “Little Hard-Core” I yank on a blue collar
since we have so many blue-collar holidays
salute myself for alpinism – just being high really
& degrees of cousinage even misty like this.

Jeni Olin
Jeni Olin was born in Houston, and studied in North Carolina and at the Naropa Institute. Her first book, A Valentine for Frank O'Hara, is an homage poem. Her work has been published in The Hat, Exquisite Corpse, and Blue Book. She lives in Manhattan.

Jacket 16 — March 2002  Contents page
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © Jeni Olin and Jacket magazine 2002
The URL address of this page is