Letter to an Abandoned Truck

It’s not your fault: the rust and how it eats
into your side the same way a colony
of termites—two thousand years ago—took

apart the remains of the dogwood planks
that held aloft a crucified thief.
Who is not abandoned, here? You,

the city, even the man who left you roadside,
months ago, frost on the branches of the world,
a thunderstorm, and his long walk North.


Letter to Ross White

When you leave The Colony, you must leave
on foot. Carry only what you can wrangle
into a single suitcase. Bring a loaf of pumpernickel
and a thermos. Don’t forget the first-aid kit.
Don’t forget the flare gun. Bring a bowie knife to cut
little notches in the trees. I’m not sure what purpose
this serves, but it seems important, though the trees will
argue this point. Don't listen to them.
When was the last time they lent you
a ten-dollar bill, or told you one true thing?

In Narrow Road to the Interior, Bashō says,
“A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age
leading a tired horse into the years, every day
is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
That’s cool, I guess, though somewhat misleading.
Technically speaking, if you spend a lifetime
adrift in a boat, it seems the boat would be “home,”
and “the journey” would translate to mean
senselessly lost, forsaken by God, ravaged
by waves and/or loggerhead sea turtles, as you feed
on gulls you kill with a blow gun
or small fish that may or may not be poisonous.

Remember when that cruise ship, with its delicate freight,
hit a rock and keeled over off the coast of Italy?
Or one year later, when another cruise ship
had a engine fire that knocked out its electricity
and there was flooding in the guest rooms
and sewage in the hallways?
That only happens when you’re out to sea.

Sometimes, it’s best to stay exactly where you are.
In Durham, for example, you can order cheese fries
whenever you like. You can go to minor league
baseball games and drink Duck Rabbit Milk Stout.
You don’t have to be hated by the Gods if you don’t want to.
When I said, “You must leave on foot,”
you know that was a metaphor, right?  We have cars.
We have fuel. Our highways go everywhere.


Letter to the One Named “Anonymous”

Fate is only for those unable to control their own futures.

What wise figure said, “Better to light one candle
than curse the darkness,” and then was forgotten?
Who said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,”
then closed his eyes and was forgotten?

Who told the masses that
“Liberty is always unfinished business”?
That was you.
And then you were forgotten.

In The Book of Infinite Quotations, your name appears
more often than Socrates or Plato,
though I used to think you were one of them, a distinguished
scholar of the forgotten world, one who spent

each day in a robe, drinking wine from a cylix
while inventing aphorisms.
All hail the great thinker, Anonymous!
And then you were forgotten.

Last fall, I put sixty job applications in the mail.
They came back like birds whose feathers had been ripped off,
their tongues cleaved. My wife went to see her therapist.
We crossed months off the calendar and waited.

My car, with its busted transmission and its heart
clogged by postlapsarian anxiety, sat out front all winter.
I called my parents,
tried to think of something to say.

If we could glance back into your time, we’d see
Aristotle in the Lyceum, and far
behind him, you—the enlightened Anonymous—
pondering the creeping horizon.

Look how the fog greets you like an old friend, drapes
its arms around your shoulders, ushers you out into the field.
You leave behind so few possessions. Poems without
names. A faceless statue. A clay bowl, filling with rain.


Matthew Olzmann is the author of two collections of poems: Mezzanines (Alice James Books, 2013)and Contradictions in the Design, which is forthcoming from Alice James Books in November, 2016. Along with Gabriel Blackwell, he is co-editor of The Collagist.