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About this poet

Matthew Olzmann was born in Detroit, Michigan. He received a BA from the University of Michigan–Dearborn and an MFA from Warren Wilson College. He is the author of Contradictions in the Design (Alice James Books, 2016) and Mezzanines (Alice James Books, 2013), winner of the 2011 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Olzmann has received fellowships from the Kresge Arts Foundation and Kundiman, among others. He teaches at Warren Wilson College and lives in North Carolina with his wife, the poet Vievee Francis.

Build, Now, a Monument

No longer satisfied by the way time slips
through his life’s work, the maker
of hourglasses yearns for a change.

He elects to construct a staircase instead.
Rather than grains of sand,
he’ll manufacture one stair after another
to lament every transient second.

Look at it now! It rockets upward, almost vertical,
beginning in his backyard, puncturing
the cloud cover, and everyone speculates
where it will end. It will end
where all ambitions end: in the ether,
where the body ceases, and a story continues.

But for now, it’s a monument.
For now: a defiance, misoneism.
A bridge between
Earth and what Earth cannot touch.

What does he think as he builds?
Mostly he contemplates the work:
the sawdust, the anger, the hammer.
But sometimes he dreams of cars, highways,
of crashes and sequestered wreckage.
Old pain. He had a friend, out there.
There was a highway, a vehicle overturned.

If his friend was here today,
she’d understand this monument.
She liked the sky, country music and caterpillars.

There are four thousand muscles in a caterpillar.
It uses every one of them
to become something other than itself.
Is the body a cocoon? the man wonders.

From the top of the staircase, the life
he left below is almost unrecognizable.
Look at the beagle, yelping in the neighbor’s yard.
The rooftops of the shrinking houses. Everything
getting smaller as his view of the world

expands. The roads marked by petite yellow lines.
Graceland and Grant’s Tomb and whatever’s left
of the Parthenon. All of it is down there.
Things end. But what he can’t comprehend
is how, around those endings, everything else
continues.

Matthew Olzmann, “Build, Now, a Monument" from Contradictions in the Design. Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Olzmann. Used with the permission of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.

Matthew Olzmann, “Build, Now, a Monument" from Contradictions in the Design. Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Olzmann. Used with the permission of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.

Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann is the author of Contradictions in the Design (Alice James Books, 2016). He lives in North Carolina.

by this poet

poem

“Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.”
—Reuters, 8/24/2011

Like the universe’s largest engagement ring, it twirls
and sparkles its way through infinity.

poem

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

2
poem

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school? 
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

2