Except for the cloud of doom that hangs over everything

Matthew Olzmann

I’m fine. Aside from the way it casts
its wide shadow widely; if not for that—
All good here! Nothing here to see! I hate
to even mention this one little catastrophe
on a list that could have included
Water Elf Disease, the King’s Evil,
or Saint Anthony’s Fire. I’ve eluded each
of these and have only one paltry cloud of doom
to be bothered by. Other than that,
I assure you; I’m swell. I’m sparkling
water in a tall glass. I’m wind through the screen
on an unfussy summer afternoon
while you’re napping on the couch.
There’s nothing I can complain about
except a world-devouring haze of anguish
that threatens to touch every single thing I love
if I don’t acknowledge, constantly, its presence,
as if this cloud were an ancient deity
demanding endless veneration, as if saying,
I’m still alive, at a volume louder than a whisper
would sound the sirens and alert the bosses
to a glitch in the system in need of correction.
Perhaps you think this is a metaphor
for a slow sequence of ruin drifting
from nation to nation, headwaters to tributaries,
one vector to the next available host?
I too thought that. I too stockpiled
the chicken soup and the hand soaps and waited.
I too broke the break-in-case-of-emergency glass.
I too reached for the mask that appeared
when the cabin pressure left me gasping.
But sometimes, I think the consternation is more
internal than external; no longer sequestered to the sky,
it’s a feeling that shudders through me,
quiet as an old farmer stalking his property line,
shotgun in one hand, flashlight in the other,
the hounds only a few paces ahead or behind.
Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe I’m fine
and feel guilty for having survived so long
when others have not. Already, I’ve outlived
so many I have loved. This cloud.
This thunder. These little horsemen galloping
back and forth inside my head. These storms
gathering and gathering, then breaking into rain.

Matthew Olzmann is the author of Constellation Route as well as two previous collections of poetry: Mezzanines (selected for the 2011 Kundiman Prize) and Contradictions in the Design. His poems have appeared in The New York TimesBest American Poetry, The Pushcart Prizes, and elsewhere. He teaches at Dartmouth College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. 

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