Olly Olly Oxen Free
by Jenny Irish
This is a true story. You don’t have to believe it. It doesn’t matter whether you
do or don’t, because it happened, and that can’t be changed. This is a true story,
and it happened, and it happened just like this. Once there were three good boys.
How so? Well—When they found a nest of baby mice, perfect and pink, writhing
as softly as freshly clipped tongues, these good boys did not dash the baby mice
against the stone wall where they had found them. They did not burn the baby
mice with the concentrated light of their magnifying glass. They did not suffocate
the baby mice in the glass jar they carried. They found the baby mice, perfect and
pink, their eyes blind purple through the thin skin of still sealed lids, and they left
the baby mice just as they had found them, perfect and pink, alive and growing in a
nest of soft gray hair, tucked into a gap in the stone wall. Go ahead and imagine the
good men these good boys might have been. Go ahead. But this is this story, which
is true, and in this story, which is true, one day each good boy said, Goodbye, mother,
and walked into the tall grass of the field, and was never seen again.
This poem is part of a larger collection that is deeply concerned with autonomy of both the body and the mind. It follows an artificial womb who gains sentience and is forced to consider her role in the continuation of the human species. As her understanding grows, so do her complex feelings of complicity.
I was working on this book during the most difficult year of my life. It was a time when I felt violated both personally and as a woman at large. On a daily basis, I was faced with a maliciousness that I could not fathom. What buoyed me throughout this incredibly challenging period was the goodness of the students I was working with. Every week, I could depend on their positivity, and I knew they would always be supportive of one another. Their approach was so contrary to what I was experiencing outside of the classroom. They gave me real hope that things could be better in the future.
In this piece, I wanted to capture the torment that is uncertainty. What has happened? Why? And what happens when there are no answers?
Jenny Irish is from Maine and lives in Arizona, where she teaches at Arizona State University. She is the author of the hybrid collections Common Ancestor and Tooth Box, the short story collection I Am Faithful, the chapbook Lupine, and the forthcoming collection Hatch. She facilitates free community workshops every summer.