a Perimeter 3

Matvei Yankelevich

Six Poems from From a Winter Notebook


It is winter so I went home early and
wrote it down colloquial and unreligious
suiting the mannerism of my century. It's
winter and "mine is the other guilt." It is
winter and someone is writing the same
poem as I am only with better penmanship,
in pencil. We have an animate conversation
in the underground only because we know
one of us will be getting off. Tell me your
books are by white guys only 'cuz this
publishing scene's all 'bout community.
We're American and have our own languages
to worry about. Paint watercolors with wine
—invite me to the opening.


Is winter and can't be edited. It's winter
and the pen is cheap, its ink stinks of banks
and telecommunications companies. They'll
know right away why it was over so quick.
Let me pee with the door wide open—ghosts
of the unborn, meanwhile, flow on. It is winter,
much too sweet—my long-sleeve stench, morning
stretches and a coat of mink oil on boot leather.
I remember these socks—of which one is left
serving to stuff the toe and heel. If the other turns
up, dust the records with it. Vests over sweaters
under overcoats.


It's winter and I make heavy plans
to answer each query I avoid. Already
I've not made untoward glances toward
lighthearted romps of alternate futures—
to be alone but touch someone after. My
eyes grow narrow… penis also? Go
to sleep at a decent hour and see
the wonder in their eyes of Where
you been last night, you old dog? Smile,
lecher, your grays've come in long
ago—oh, just smoke caught in locks.
A woman in my window, but it's
only me, justified.


It is winter—a way to begin
formless—not in a narrow
notebook, narrow in light. A
dead bug meets me at the door,
who knows how long it's been
half-dead now gutter-bound
from dust pan to toilet flush as
goes unplain cant and slant
speech, for if my language be
the false language of commerce
and the wars that ensure its profit
I prefer it to pretending—Let
it ring false all the more so as dom-
dom-dom is home, a bell calling
us back from battle to the same
office and dead bug poems.


It is winter and time to keep imperfect
record of inappropriate quantities just shy
of lethal, to do for others what I'd
not do for anyone I know. It's about
time you called what's going on just
that—dampened. Time for the pedal
to sphere the note from shape to non-shape,
a long-awaited exit. Time for fennel &
fantasies of getting into a pocket. Time
to look squarely at window's hunger,
to see the tablet in the soap dish.
Time for poetry to speak from its
bear trap about what's hideous and
wonderful in being caught at this
most indefensible task as the public
sphere yawns loudly. Time to regret
the unsaid, and the rest. Dear sphere,
look away.


Winter and No Mastery is trending.
What's this about being loved for who you
are when the point is to be loved despite it.
Thereof I hate everything and everything
hates me back, fills winter with its lack
of what's for dinner. I came into this
inheritance and can't be kitch about all
the connections I've forced upon myself.
No longer metaphor will cut the path
through winter on the knees which I
conjure in the shower when lathering
the pelt of hardened flesh that centers
desire. Sink my flesh in yours, and
what will come of it—I care very little
as long as I'm rid of my handwriting.
Platitudes, lifestyles, snow shovels—
turn them this way and that.

Matvei Yankelevich is the author of Alpha Donut (United Artists), Boris by the Sea (Octopus), and Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt (Black Square). He is the translator of Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook/Ardis) and co-translator of the National Translation Award-winning An Invitation for Me to Think by Alexander Vvedensky (NYRB Poets). He is one of the founding editors of Ugly Duckling Presse, where among other things he curates the Eastern European Poets Series and co-edits 6x6. He teaches at Columbia University's School of the Arts and is a member of the Writing Faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.