- Letter to Matthew Olzmann from the Roman Empire, and: Letter to Matthew Olzmann from a Traffic Light in Durham, North Carolina
Letter to Matthew Olzmann from the Roman Empire
Two or three mornings per week, I wake up, and say, Dang,I’m the Roman Empire! I’m the Land where Jupiter swingshis mighty marble columns! Check out these temples!Check out these fine-ass aqueducts! I’ve got the Arch of Janus,the Arch of Titus, and the Arch of Septimius Severus.What does one do with so many Arches? Beats me,but two or three mornings per week, I wake up, readyto conquer, ready to ride my chariot down the block again.Look at these golden rims. Look at this platinum sideboard.Gaze upon this diamond-encrusted crossbar and yoke.
The rest of the week, I just want to stay inside. I just wantto read a book and go to bed. This happens, I reckon,to everyone. You might not understand now, but you will.
Initially, you’ll enter the world with a cry that soars likea bald eagle. The audience will applaud your first steps.You’ll go to school and solve the conundrum of two plus two.You’ll discover who Marcus Aurelius is. Or was.You’ll get a job, smile for the cameras, subjugatea couple promising territories. It’ll be one victory lapafter another, but before you know it—Visigoths
scrabble the horizon and your garage needs a new roof.You press on, govern admirably, mow the lawn. Butyour legions quibble and caterwaul, your boss callson the weekends, and some new god begins a campaignof turning water into whatever in the neighbors’ yard.
Suddenly, you can’t remember where you put your keys.Next, your praetors have all been corrupted. Pillarscrack, molder. No one’s been near the Colosseum in years. [End Page 83]
Letter to Matthew Olzmann from a Traffic Light in Durham, North Carolina
Actually, I’m less of a traffic cop, moreof an amateur thaumaturgist. What miracles mightI preform, you ask? I adjure the passage of time.Wait here, I say. Go ahead, I say. And in fits,your world stops. Then starts. Then stops.Then proceeds. Then ceases. Then ensues.Then halts. Then pulses and lurches forward,like blood through a valve to stormthe command center in your cranium. Up there,something seethes at every red light, authorizesyour clenched teeth, your mad muttering of, God,please make this light turn green. And I say,Nope. And I say, Not yet. And I say, Remainin place and observe. Look: there goes your world.And there it goes again. How is it that youwho have begged to believe in anything, see onlythis one road before you? This one delay. This briefintermission. Not the wonderment of highwaysit touches. Not the intersections I present, voidof collisions, all windblown and ghost-town quiet.Not the order I foist upon each crossroadyou encounter. These zippy motorcycles.These sleek sedans. None of them broadsiding you.No fiery ruin. No Wreck-of-Matthew. Each vessel,with a particular terminus, and each vessel,I send on its way. [End Page 84]
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. He’s currently the 2015-16 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.