Letter to The Terrified Versions of Myself
Matthew Olzmann

                                   I often find myself writing to the terrified versions of myself.

                                    —Ocean Vuong

That mole on your back? It could be a tumor.
That shortness of breath? It could be tumor.
The parakeet’s cage, the telescope lens,
the wheel and the spokes—this too, all of it,
anywhere, could be a flaw in the body, an exit sign,
a minivan that swerves into oncoming traffic.

The beating like wings inside your chest?
Could be wings. Could blow a hole
through you and fly like wind into the wind.

If it’s any comfort, I’m here to tell you
those fears are understandable.

Consider the Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that feeds
on the human brain. It lives in fresh water,
and look—there’s a river behind your house.

You might die. Or you might not. Not every fear
leads to death. Fear could guide you to a rented room,
a bottle of rum, a revolver, a TV that doesn’t work.

There are some things I will never tell you.

You might walk into the forest and become lost, walk
into the mountains and become lost, walk into the desert
and long to become lost but instead keep finding your way
back to a life where you are always afraid.

Imagine a storm at sea. You’re out there,
flung over the port-side rail of a commercial fishing trawler.
The Atlantic surges and shrieks around you.
You drift for as long as you can.
In the morning, there is sunlight, shadows on the water.
Why now? you ask. Those shadows—
the helicopters above, the bull shark below.


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