The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2019

All Issues
SEPT 2019 Issue

five poems from “From a Winter Notebook”

* * *
In a disjunctive age, disconsolate, without connection,
to clear my thoughts I lick this postage stamp you may have never licked.
The color of cracked walnut shells and cork boards, pulp paper trails —
in time the brooks and soldiers run away from tinny villanelles.
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.
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, exhaustion from which to recover, rhetoric
to tame in its wide, trembling circus tent. So 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. 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?

* * *
a twenty in my pocket — from you who felt sorry —
the same as 26 cents in frank’s pale '58 knuckles.
spent some on a slice (new york temptation) then did some
sulking at the bookstore. it’s late and life has not begun.
the sequel’s out and i haven’t even already seen
planet earth one. leftovers till payday. not really
a job, but i hold it down. almost touched your sleeve, why
would i do that after you told me i was attracted?
denigration is alright, sometimes. let me be a kid
in your arms for an evening in mexico city.
when it’s over, say thanks for being around to smile at.
i was around the first time and i’m still around to see
your retrospective. my fellow citizens talk love
and visions under daddy's boot. lefties who won’t let
their kid's read twain, but don’t ban ayn rand. yes, history
slides into home — safe — lets have a coke and forget it,
bat at a ball. gnaw on a leg. green hills of iowa
scroll along to their blood conclusions. when asked about
a living wage, they laughed in my face — i felt like david
schubert on the bus through midtown. a poem once a month —
not bad for nonprofit. roll it not fold it. next up,
the cantos, maximus, and all that. as a poet
i’m fortunate to know in the audience tonight says,
Fuck Everybody — it's more i.r.l. in native mouth.
which is being a poet. rogers & hart they say,
not hart & rogers; who says? typos at every turn
await the innocent of language. what's foreign when
i am at home, save me? the vinegar soaks up the bad
but not the good, how does it know? sometimes I google
the word website. said baraka, "find your self, then kill it"
which reminds me: denby reading dante's paradiso
when the pills kick in. no rhyme was coming to the mind
and nothing good enough to keep was in the notebooks
when “and the snow blinks down to winter" wrote joan murray.

* * *
Friends send for me; I close the doors.
The spring is bitter to me.
Had I the phoenix hair-pins
I would crush them thoughtlessly
against the pillows, wrap myself
in gauze and silk, past midnight
sit occupied with scissors, trim
the flowering lamp. No dreams
come, at least none worth sleeping.
I hear there are still beautiful
places, but winds may be too strong
and I'm done writing on blossoms.
I copy verses from old books
and talk with ancestors who know
you can't keep petals from falling.
I'd rather face the passing hours
facing a wine cup. Staleness
settles on once fragrant ponds
and nothing keeps the fog out.
I've studied, but it's best to keep
my thoughts to myself, embrace
the age — as Li Ching-Chao — forget
about reputation. Stay home,
do very little, least I can.
Deep courtyards turn the sound of leaves
startled by a breeze... why are they
still there from previous winter?

* * *
My ear completely in your mouth, I dwell
upon the element of context, moonstone,
channel five, a quay unlocked, a not-I door
me-squeaking. As any ear a conch becomes
to hear the swelling sea, so your tongue ceases
to be tongue, a snail fitting into curves
of shadow, as shale conforms its purring
to the swale. Slow time pours out empathy
no vessel can be whole enough to carry
on its sliding journey. The envy of sound
in the cough, like the sad squeal of the fan
that's violently unplugged, or smell of paper
in the paperback, the empty whispered
promise of documentary persuasion.
Here the voice rests, top-heavy as the pines
laden with heavy plumb-like pendulums
of cones, once lithe squirrels have gleaned for shucking
lower branches. There's no one to talk to.
Rental mattress springs do pinch my inner life,
childhood shamed and useless in the moonlight.
The snail has long ago returned, now tongue
is tongue, and ear is ear. The fan comes on
and time is back to rushing. The squirrels sleep
where no one can see. Your secret dried now,
like the trace of waves along the sand, dead sea
greens left behind, and shame of having held
too briefly that long, wet, winter silence.

* * *
whose laugh is last, tell me
death itself looks at this place
truth doesn't satisfy desire
this side of night, each thing
i tried for your immortal knee
perpendicular to the ground
of you no part remains
a pathos perpendicular
to its own experience
thoughts fight ideas
and possibility is always
perfectly incredible
what things you had then
their painful freshness
was it important, this
cool breeze of august night
among rat tails of the lamps
their peripheral vision
portfolios of wine-dark flats
outside wind lines the leaves
at age 7 "he learned
the alphabet and ate"
my habitable nouns
play hooky, homeless
have i not done what
wasn't worth the doing
note how screen doors are
angry at the body moving
i'm walking barefoot
forward to unfamiliar light
in private decency
glancing at your photo
were these eyes big or small
or the attraction of loss
where? in my thoughts
Klee's distant notebooks
gray point's coincidence
catching in our speech
what turns you on?
my lips soft on your neck
i long for that coherence
of ideas with things
like olives, the poet says
"we must be moving on"
as if he were alive
to see this huge winter


Matvei Yankelevich

Matvei Yankelevich is a founding editor of Ugly Duckling Presse, and teaches at Columbia University's School of the Arts and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2019

All Issues