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Tag: Matthew Olzmann

Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years From Now

Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,

the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations

of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.

It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing

but benzene, mercury, the stomachs

of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic.

You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,

but I assure you we were.

We still had the night sky back then,

and like our ancestors, we admired

its illuminated doodles

of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.

Absolutely, there were some forests left!

Absolutely, we still had some lakes!

I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.

There were bees back then, and they pollinated

a euphoria of flowers so we might

contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,

“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”

And then all the bees were dead.

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.

Letter to Bruce Wayne

—After Borges

A good place to hide a drop of water is a stream.

A good place to hide a stream is beneath an ocean.

A good place to hide a man is among thousands

of men. Watch how they rush

through the city like water through a ravine.

I’ve searched many famous cities for you.

There are three listings for “Bruce Wayne”

in Houston, two in Pittsburg, one in Miami and one in LA.

In Tampa, Bruce Wayne is a retired chemistry teacher.

In Flagstaff, he drives a taxi and hopes

to procure a diamond for his soon-to-be fiancée.

A good place to hide a star is a galaxy.

A good place to hide a galaxy is a universe.

Look at the night sky. Justice

used to be a cowl and cape, the flicker

of wings under an etiolated moon. And you,

like a gargoyle, crouched atop some stone edifice.

To conceal a universe, place it in a multiverse—that hypothetical

klatch of alternate realities. The dilemma of the word

“alternate” is how it implies a norm, a progenitor stream

from which the alternate diverges. Which is the alternate?

Which is right here, right now? There is no such thing

as Gotham City, but here is Gotham City and I’ve been

so naïve: believing the truth of the old mythologies.

How they promised a recognizable villain,

a clown with a ruby-slashed mouth, a lunatic’s laugh.

In the universe where I exist, supervillains

look like everyone else. Give them an old flannel

to wear and a square jawline to smile at the world.

They’re hanging noose in a middle school bathroom.

They’re shouting, Get out of my country,

from the window of a passing car.

They’re pulling a pistol in a crowded barroom,

or bus stop, or the middle of the street.

They could be anyone. They could be everywhere.

A good place to hide a sociopath is a full-length mirror.

A good place to hide that mirror is the heart of America.

In the battle of Good versus Evil, I was so sure

Good would win. Now I just hope something Good will survive,

get a job cutting hair or selling cars, make it home for dinner.

I suspect there’s a parallel dimension where you, Vigilante,

long for this as well. To have a normal life is victory enough.

To remain anonymous and not be spat upon on the subway.

In Boston, Bruce Wayne owns a pawn shop.

In Milwaukee, he plays pinochle and feeds stray cats.

In New Hampshire, he goes fly fishing on the Sugar River,

reels in one brook trout after another.

When he removes the hook from a mouth,

he might place the fish in a cooler.

Or, he might set it back into a stream—

the alternate or the original—no longer certain

in which he stands.

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.

TORQUE

We know gears are supposed to turn,

but we forget their teeth, that to pull

they must bite into another.

Last month, the workers at the axle factory

went on strike. Without the axle,

there is no car. Without the carloads

of workers at noon, the sandwich shop

down the block shuts its doors,

kills its lights. Behind the sandwich shop,

a dumpster fills with bees.

My wife is allergic to the stinger.

Lodged in human skin, the barb is lost

to the bee, and the bee must die.

And if enough of them fail again

to find the hive, that dies as well.

from MezzaninesFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2013 Matthew Olzmann
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

SPOCK AS A METAPHOR FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF RACE DURING MY CHILDHOOD

Consider the mathematics of my German father.

The unconditional tears of my Filipino mother.

Call me Spock, but it was logic versus emotion

every day on Earth.

Out in space, there are over a million miles

between asteroids in an asteroid field.

It’s pretty much impossible to hit one unless you actually

aim for it.

Not so on Star Trek. There, they have to grit their teeth,

put their shields up, crash a couple times and assess the

damage.

As a kid, I was amazed by the skill of those spacemen,

“skill” which I soon realized was nothing more than sheer

incompetence.

Hitting an asteroid? There’s just no excuse for that.

A modest revelation. But these revelations

strung themselves together, orbited the planet

in ways that messed with things like gravity and light.

It went like this: You knew you could fly

until your first attempt left you with two broken teeth.

You knew you were like all the other kids,

until your best friend said, No, you’re not.

And he was right.

And in that moment, something shifted.

The galaxy became real, and in its realness, the asteroids

seemed so much closer than you thought.

You were half-alien, staring down an eternity

that was both limitless and dangerous

as a captain’s voice boomed from above:

Brace for impact, we’re going down.

from MezzaninesFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2013 Matthew Olzmann
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

THE HAND THAT TAPS THE NAMES INTO GRAVESTONES

doesn’t give a lamb’s ass if your name is Joseph

or Catherine or Tiglathpileser.

It’s like any other hand.

With sandpaper knuckles and a slender,

banana-shaped scar that hooks across its palm,

it does its work. Thankless work.

Work requiring it to manipulate the chisel and hammer

like a master percussionist—clink clink and clink

is the only music it knows—into a symphony

of Here Lies Conrad or Beloved Father,

or the occasional Wish You Were Here

into granite or white marble.

Jesus, it thinks.

Mother of God, it thinks.

Brutal work, done in the day (not night).

Nine to five. Like any other hand.

Setting down the tools. Punching out,

then digging in a pocket for quarter or keys.

from MezzaninesFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2013 Matthew Olzmann
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

THE MELTING POT IN HOUSEWARES HAS A SLIGHT CRACK

down the middle. I’m one-half something.

One part stained glass window. One part

three-hour infomercial. A crucifix hangs

in my chest like a heart. Chamber music.

One part mestizo. One part mezzanine.

I know where the checkout lane is.

Your mother spends and spends and spends.

My father says this to me.

He doesn’t understand how much I save him,

she replies on her cell phone.

Which floor is Kitchen Utensils? Which floor

is Lawn Care? Take a credit card and the escalator down.

Do you still go to church on Sundays?

my grandmother asks.

I say the word assimilation like a blade

of grass bending. Always bending. A hundred rows

of flickering TVs for newscasters to pronounce

immigration like a virus.

Here. In the theater of household

appliances, people see my brother and I and ask

which one is not like the others? Which floor

is Electronics? Which floor is Hardware?

Where’s a nail gun when you need one?

We’re standing between departments.

We were born in different strip malls,

both in America.

Yes. I know most of the Lord’s Prayer, how to hook

up a DVD player, how to disappear.

from MezzaninesFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2013 Matthew Olzmann
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

MOUNTAIN DEW COMMERCIAL DISGUISED AS A LOVE POEM

So here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage

might work: because you wear pink but write poems

about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell

at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,

loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,

gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials

from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.

You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents

of what you packed were written inside the boxes.

Because you think swans are overrated and kind of stupid.

Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me

to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.

Because you underline everything you read, and circle

the things you think are important, and put stars next

to the things you think I should think are important,

and write notes in the margins about all the people

you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.

Because you make that pork recipe you found

in the Frida Kahlo cookbook. Because when you read

that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing

except the part were Rilke says love means to deny the self

and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights

are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed

over the windows, you still believe someone outside

can see you. And one day five summers ago,

when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge

was so empty-not even leftovers or condiments

there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,

which you paid for with your last damn dime

because you once overheard me say that I liked it.

from MezzaninesFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2013 Matthew Olzmann
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

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.