1073: Great Question by Lisa Olstein

20240313 SD

1073: Great Question by Lisa Olstein


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Recently, I watched a friend take to the stage to narrate her on-again, off-again relationship. The person who made them, in their words, starry-eyed and weak, was the topic of a decade-plus long drama condensed into a five-minute act which resulted in them getting out of town, forever. The workplace romance complicated matters too much. So, she just left.

This wasn’t The Moth Radio Hour, but the Heartbreak Happy Hour in Nashville. The audience stood with plastic cups of beer, knowingly nodding. That there exists someone in our lives who can, without warning, just walk into a room and send our molecules into disarray is a familiar and particular kind of blues. The evening of standup comedy, storytelling, songs, and poetry left me in stitches, but mostly I felt in my gut the distinct anguish of humans in love.

Why do we lean on love so much for sustenance? When passion dwindles to a set of burned twigs, where once there was a raging fire; it’s as though a theft has occurred, the result of which makes us homesick for ourselves.

I find it difficult to accept that our predilection for acts of hankering is all genetics encouraging us to simply procreate. I like to think we are seeking love to cure the wound of being separated from our other half; as Aristophanes argued in Plato’s Symposium. That we are waiting for the magic found in another person’s eyes to heal us. Love, however elusive, is how we are brought to wholeness, a sense of ourselves where we are tall and invincible.

Yet, heartbreaks are inevitable. Foul-ups are bound to happen, and today’s poem makes it clear the extent to which the mess of love, as a burden, lives within us, ever so sweet, ever so veiled.

Great Question
by Lisa Olstein

When I say seeing you again really opened me up
I mean like a hatchet to the chest 

I keep hidden in my chest, stuck drawers 
near the heart. Little lathe, long past, 

do you remember? After years of careful study 
and even more studied looking away,

having retraced the memory palace
from the unfinished novel of what lives

and lives and lives and still lives
wherever it is flint meets spark in the dark,

hot orange here then gone low and slow,
a smoldering field, a controlled burn—

yes, I remember. Finally,
I’ve located the girl, the bend, the night,

that series of precise and fumbling distances
that set our bodies in motion

across thousands of other nights but
from these forensics I’ve gleaned no wisdom

only wish, sorrow, sorrow, wish,
nothing at all about the ox I am or my cart.

“Great Question” by Lisa Olstein from DREAM APARTMENT © 2023 Lisa Olstein. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.