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