February 2008

Matthew Olzmann


Matthew Olzmann was a 2006 and 2007 Kundiman Fellow. His work has recently appeared in American Poetry Journal, Atlanta Review, Hanging Loose, Pebble Lake Review, and elsewhere.

How Much    

are you supposed to tip the ferryman
when he rows you across the pale river,
when he sets your suitcase on the far sands,
when he extends his tin cup? Deliver
whatever's left—your grandmother's wedding
band, your father's silver timepiece, the few
coins clinking in your pockets. I'm betting
on bourbon, hard Kentucky whiskey to
refill a cold flask, and, yes, I'm ready
to offer that, but on just one condition:
let him tell me how his thin hands steady
the boat, explain why his concentration
never slips, and how, knowing what shores
wait for us, he can still dip his stained oars.



The Man Who Looks Lost as He Stands
in the Sympathy Card Section at Hallmark

looks so sad with his bent umbrella
that you want to place a hand on his shoulder,
say, "It'll be Okay." But you don't.
Because you also look like a crumbling statue
narrowed by rain, because you too have been abandoned
by language and what's there to speak of or write
among so many words. There are not enough words
to say, Someone is gone and in their place
is a blue sound that only fits inside
an urn which you'll drag to the mountains
or empty in an ocean with the hope
that the tide will deliver a message
that you never could.
Because even those words
would end like a shipwreck at the bottom
of clear water. Someone would eventually look down,
notice the shattered hull, the mast
snapped in half, and believe those words
meant ruin, when they really meant,
starfish, iceberg, or scar tissue.
And even those words would fail. In this room
that smells like lemon candle wax and wild berry
potpourri, you pick up a card, set
it down again. Pick up a card, toss
it aside. In leaving, you take only an empty envelope.
Or you are an empty envelope. Or you're the boat
searching for the glacier to gouge its side again.
You're the door that opens to the sleet outside.
You're the bell that bangs above the door as the door slams shut.



Matthew Olzmann: Poetry
Copyright ©2008 The Cortland Review Issue 38The Cortland Review