Nine Poems by Matvei Yankelevich

Four Poems from Dead Winter

 

My task, my cross — to reassemble

winter’s memory? Each fingernail, each checker

on my shirt, each knot of knits, each follicle,

and every cone? — Doors shut at my enquiry,

forgetting of when was it we first met.

Why ask for closure, when there’s nothing final?

The BBS is down. Cursive’s untaught . . .

Yet I taste the iron in the walnut.

Because I read so little and so slowly,

turns bend now only to who I was again,

appear as habit. Widely believed to have

writ adverse advice for adulterers,

I scour notebook prose for hidden meters,

my flaws dressed up as inconsequent failure,

crime camouflaged in error. Tell me now

the course, poor navigator, to the shore.

 

 

 

Winter’s prison: fog, the titles I write down to read,

each night too short to write that letter you would rather

I not write. Here useless struggle’s worth my while, I cleave

persistent loafing, desperate inertia. To sing

without a tune, figuratively abstract: the sound

product of tying my shoes. Now, when I’m pulsed to change

a word, I often leave it, not — my suspicious friend —

for love of it as is, but of serious boredom,

so that you too may feel that drag, and this hang, also.

 

 

In a disjunctive age, disconsolate, without connection,

I lick this postage stamp — a thing that you may not have ever licked.

Pulp paper trails the color of cracked walnut shells and cork boards.

To write this is to stay up till tomorrow cannot be a day

to read about the dead, tear further troubles to have later

seams to mend, put forth exhaustion from which to recover, tame

rhetoric in its wide, trembling circus tent. Word for word for word

I change to pass through night in pace with night, time as if bravely

lost, but lost, lost all the same. There’s no decision left to make

for those who feared deciding — once, twice, a third, until it was too late;

choice narrows down the lane, in time the brooks and soldiers run away

from tinny villanelles. Even your name, your status update —

divorced, vacating job, collecting dust, disheartened, now deceased

— means little if at all a thing it is to be. Compared to what?

Compared to winter’s day? The heat of these laughable plastic keys?

 

 

 

To have a book to read and not

to read it. Smoke out a window

at the rain — someone to talk to

but not to talk with them. Silence

but for plastic keys struck softly.

No bell for waking, nor for sleep;

tolling the eights on chestnut desk.

Who will continue here once roads

are open after winter’s close?

 

 

Published in Dead Winter (Fonograf Editions, 2022).

Five Poems from From a Winter Notebook

***

 

It is winter-a way to begin

Formless — not in a narrow notebook,

narrow in light. Fat brown bug greets me

at the door — who knows how long it’s been

half dead (or full dead, for that matter):

now from dust pan to flushing gutter,

same as unplain cant. Mine, this slant speech,

sabir of our commerce and its sword

to insure profit: I prefer it

to pretending nature — Let it ring

the more so as dom-dom-dom is home,

doomed bell calling us back from battle

to same office of winter poems.

 

 

***

 

It is winter, a gray slate to chance,

to desire desire, to be less . . .

The anniversary is coming. Whose

ghost will look over my shoulder now

as I'm shaving? Roi was right on: love

is evil. Fifty years on, who needs it —

freedom, poetry — though at one time

it seemed necessary. Bills and books

muck out a desk. Watch me run magic

fingers above my chalk cahiers. This one’s

for me, it's too short.

 

 

***

 

It is winter — time to write

those who are dying, Will I say

I know how it feels? Thoughts of you

Tom, Tomaž. Barely knew. You have

no thought of just how lost I am

to you in your hour. No

time to look back and even if —

this isn't it. No heroes

visit my dreams in long canoes,

in dark green wind of artifice —

 

 

 

***

 

Is winter and can’t be edited

once written. Cheap pen’s ink stinks of banks,

telecommunications. They’ll know

why it was quickly over. Why I pee

with the door ajar . . . Ghosts of the unborn,

meanwhile, flow on. And winter is too sweet —

a long-sleeve stench in morning stretches,

a coat of mink oil on boot leather . . .

remember these socks of which one is left

serving to buff the toe and heel. If

the other shows, I’ll dust the records.

 

 

***

 

It's winter and someone is writing the same

poem as I am with better penmanship,

in pencil. Our animate conversation

underground — because we know one of us

will soon be getting off. Guy I met says

his pages are all white ’cuz this publishing

scene's all ’bout community — bona fide.

We’re American and there’s our own language

to worry about. Paint watercolors

with wine — invite me to the opening.

 

 

Published in From a Winter Notebook (Alder & Frankia, 2021).

Matvei Yankelevich