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Letter to Justin, Age Seven, Regarding Any Possible Mixed-Race Anxieties Which One Might Experience in the Near or Distant Future

Sometimes, when people talk about white people,

exactly one half of me hits the Eject Button.

Not being white, that half says, Okay, this thing isn’t about me

so, I’m just going to hang out over there and think about other things,

and then the other half of me tries to tag along,

looks for an exit door he too can slip through,

but the half of me that just opted out, says, No. This

is important for you to hear. You really need to sit and listen to this,

and then the other half says, No, I’m with you. We’re

the same person, and then the first one yells

something like, Not this time, Colonizer!

but that’s when I notice I’m talking aloud

and everyone’s looking at me. It’s okay

if everyone’s looking at you. It’s fine if both voices

are right. If both voices are wrong. If they’re not

talking about you but you should listen

because it’s important. If they are talking about you

but you shouldn’t listen because they’re clueless.

You might walk through many rooms.

You were welcome before you arrived.

It’s okay if what you feel is anxious.

If what you feel is calm. If what you feel is jarring.

If what you feel can best be described

as torsion pendulums, elm trees,

feeder roots, escrima sticks, algae on the surface

of water surrounding you and then letting you go.

Metaphors link the known and unknown,

the real and imaginary, and they exist

because there are things we have no words for.

It’s okay to not have words and,

in their absence, become a bridge. I didn’t care

about metaphors when I was your age.

What I cared about then was simple:

convincing my parents to let me have a dog.

That was what was important, and I felt

it was the thing that could best complete my life.

I couldn’t have a dog because my mom was allergic.

That is a trait I did not inherit from her.

That is also a metaphor. We don’t choose

what we inherit. I did not get a dog.

Instead I got a goldfish.

The goldfish was boring and died after a month

and, really, it doesn’t add much

to my narrative. This would be a better story

if I just left that part out. But that’s how stories work:

you choose what to include, what’s important,

and what belongs to you. You choose how to tell it.

The thing I would tell next

is that I later got a pet salamander. It was beautiful

and weird-looking and belonged to both

earth and water. Some salamanders are poisonous.

Some mythologies say they’re made from fire.

Some have gills. Some have lungs.

Some have neither and have evolved

to breathe forever through their skin.

from Constellation RouteFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2022 Matthew Olzman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in Matthew Olzmann Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.