Matthew Olzmann



When Catullus says it,
it sounds more eloquent
than when I say it:
Nothing gets through to you, jackass.

When I forget
to put gas in the gas tank.
When I miss every deadline.
When I accidentally flood the kitchen.

When I buy the wrong kind of light bulbs
and everything I build goes dark
like a condemned building, and the news says
get ready for more of the same,

because everyone we know keeps
flying off this Earth, and it’s autumn now
so the leaves are letting go of their branches
as if they too are ready

to evacuate this town,
and one day— whether we like it or not—
we will follow, and my knuckles feel
rough and helpless

and I want to pound my face through the drywall
or heaven: nothing—not reason
or a tender voice—
nothing gets through.

Yes, there are other jackasses.
Better, more accomplished jackasses.
Cities. Countries.
Once, there was even a TV show dedicated

to men who skateboarded from the rooftops
of houses and garages, lit
themselves on fire, kicked each other
in the balls and laughed about it.

But they’ve got nothing on this jackass.
They had to try to be that stupid.
Me? I am working my hardest, every single day,
to act like a normal person.

But I slam a door when I mean
to say I love you.
I back my car into another
when I’m trying to move forward.




In the ravine, the water seems to know the path
to the rest of the water that hums ahead, miles away.
Some would correct me here, say:
No, that’s not a “river,” but a “stream” or a “brook.”
But the river doesn’t care about its name,
it would never correct you,
and there’s something
to be said about how it’s performed
its task for centuries,
how it’s memorized
the contours of each dip and crag,
each canyon and fall, the fat
stones, the trunks of fallen trees (it believes
it must touch them all in the same
perfect order each time!) before reaching its end:
a blueness, bigger than imagined.
And when the water of the river
meets the water of something larger,
it never asks how or why it got there,
it doesn’t question its purpose or wonder where it’s going:
it just glistens, rushes forward, and is gone.


MATTHEW OLZMANN‘s first book of poems, Mezzanines, was selected for the Kundiman Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Alice James Books.


Read more work by Matthew Olzmann:

Kenyon Review
New England Review
Poetry Northwest