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).