Matthew Olzmann

Nate Brown is Looking for a Moose

Shrouded in fog, dignified and reticent: a moose.

When Ross White goes outside in Vermont,

he sees one immediately.


When Jamaal May goes outside, he sees one as well.

As if they are everywhere.


But when Nate Brown goes outside, he sees

only the absence of a moose, spaces

where one might have stood but no longer stands.  


He’s been hoping to see one for years.

So he practices his moose call and nothing happens.

He stands tiptoe, on one leg,

narrows his eyes. Nothing happens.


What he has now is a mission, a quest

a calling that can’t be denied.


It’s dusk and he stares into the dark. The world

is full of dogwoods and elm trees, and behind the branches,

ten thousand more—all leafy and stupid

and yielding no answers.


What do I mean? I mean

despite everything, we might search

for something and never find it.


When I was a teenager, several of my friends

suddenly found God.

I tried, but found only pocket lint and angst.


The loser of some holy scavenger hunt,

the last to cross the finish line,

kneeling in church, whispering

to heaven: Dude, where are you?


What made it worse was everyone’s conviction.

The candles and prayer groups,

the smugness of their repeating, Well, you know,

if you look behind you and see only one set of footprints—


What makes Nate Brown’s quest equally difficult

is how our friend Chip Cheek leans back in his chair

and says, Oh Man—out here they grow big as dinosaurs.


And how Kellam Ayers’s eyes fill with mist

when she nods and says, Yes, they’re almost       magical.


And so a man goes back into the fields

and tries not to move. Goes

out to the forest and tries not to move. Goes

down to the river

and pretends he’s part of that river.


He is a stone, a branch, a fallen maple leaf.

He is (sort of) patient

and he’ll see this thing or hold his breath forever.


I think of myself as a teenager and how

I’m no different now.


At home, my wife has a numbness, a weakness that spreads

through her body and no doctors

can figure it out. When she sleeps,


I’m afraid of everything and I pray into her hair

like I’m young again

on my knees in a church, in search of an answer.


Sometimes I go outside and the dark is so prodigious—

the way it remedies everything by covering everything.


I like thinking of how my friend stares

down this same darkness

as if it will offer the index to some temporal secret.


What we’re looking for are miracles.


Out there—

there could be nothing.


Or there could be antlers and hooves.

Lumbering mysteries.

They plod across the quiet fields.



“Nate Brown is Looking for a Moose” first appeared in Poetry Northwest, Summer & Fall Issue, 2014.