from From a Winter Notebook

Matvei Yankelevich


Winter’s disappointments include:
your fears line up with my faults
so perfectly it’s nearly cause

for celebration. Wild chives
spew forth, brown trees bud, roses
open hopefully but lack spring’s
early vigor: So old love warms
quietly the quiet room — bed, desk,
dresser, records, dining table (same
as desk), and pyramids of half-read
books, time-loved. These faults are
finally irreparable, and fears —
for young embrace. I’ll likely not
reply with reciprocity in passion
your plaintive facebook message.
Ask how void beckons, vacant
lowered eyes seduce, and edge
draws one precipitously nearer
affection’s empty promise. Old
ships love storms all the more so
at safe distance, for dry dock
is mundane, and everywhere
repairs, repairs, repairs...


That winter I asked the same thing

so often; this winter I am out of words,
ashamed of the endless-hopeless, droning
prayer. But note that I don’t dare disturb
your peaceful sleep by naming your name,
a courtesy you have asked for also without
voicing — and hear what you haven’t said,
knowing better than to ask your permission
to speak aloud or write what you are called

in the unseemly whining of this exilic lyric.
The washed-up poet, though “silent as to who
you are,” persists in writing “you” from his
depraved and frozen delta by the sea. By now
you’ve learned by heart what it is he wants,

so monotonous are his dull exhortations,

weak words that blush before their speaker’s
idleness. (Why should they go along with what
passes as his wishes?) But I can swim upstream
no longer, and so before friends sneer, I’ll

turn. This, too, Yankelevich, you’ll bear

with, having borne worse. There is no

place on me for further burdens — I take

refuge in this prison. Instead of throwing

off the yoke I haven’t strength to carry,

I will speak such nonsense to you all.


To perceive winter is one thing, another

altogether is to thwart it with green suns

of spring, a task the old heart isn’t dressed for.

The toughened mind cannot soften a harsh wind
instead I simply harp on this only string

in the outlandish outskirts of the poem.

The poet in New York — a winning comedy

of economic error, of the blindness that imagines
capital would lend an ear to histrionic dreamers
with ethical aesthetics. Enemies are all around,
why not tell it overmuch if it be so? Who do I fear
boring — a wealthy patron? I have nonesuch

to fear. “It takes art to root out the trouble,”

a poet once tossed at deaf ears from the margins

of his empire. It landed shy the center, to be sure,
by a thousand ship-lengths. Yes, still, we feel
good, good, and this scrawl and screech does
damned damn for it. So when I’m pulsed to change
a word now, I often leave it, not — my suspicious
friend — for love of it as is, but only out of serious
boredom, so that you too may feel that drag 
                                                                and this hang.


Tongueless winter bears no gift — I send you
foreign arrows. Free them against your enemies

in the academy, but warn me first so that I may
take cover under this brass tray, Scythian, circa
30th year of our lord, our common era. But not

to make a book the object of my care, give me

not credit of choice in this matter: when against
your will I write your praise. I praise your limbs
and trace your stomach; write the weak slouch

I can’t (forbidden to) caress, which complements
the curve that leads to darkness I desire, dark

as lost eyes that glare as they look up from under
downcast brow. I praise the armpit that my tongue
sought out and stung, as I sniffed with glutton’s
appetite soft hair of cigarettes and cheaper whisky.
In this I am by far the meanest of possessions.

Now the silt of longing chokes the spring of praises:
Scarcely a word can I write were I to imagine your
sharp eye to read it. Bore I arduously strove to be,
become, now I would everyone to see it — save you,
though yes, you too, if only to get back at my self.
Here, take what little I bring into the world.


Come clean winter, come clear with me,
for last terrestrial words are only

also words. And after, still, I am already
not the world, and neither am I of it.
Absurdity has no degree, no lesser, nor
no greater. Same of love, as we pray
that nothing is natural. Behave well,
poorly, but consider me winter, bear

me in mind, as I bear you, as comrades
in grief and in imagination. I am already
what you thought I was, black ice, rough
outline on a map. What could have been
a form remained a shape. “All love is
verbal construction,” the old man said.
What I feel is already verbal — if only
I could say it. I’ll never dance well, live
closer my desires, act out of pure self

and center. Name this feeling if you will.
Is this self that seeks the death of other?

I would strangle it to understand you.
But be not afraid, for I still do have this
consideration, a perpetual uneasiness

for being conscious, this finite being.


How does one winter up against

the spring, stop in cold tracks the new

stuff that doesn’t ft this this frame

(right off the rack), fits others, like

the tracks that lay ahead, trick light,

and treat the landscape scientifically.

I look at just this clump of frozen

grass (like matted hair of afternoon’s
malaise) beneath my boot’s loose laces.
Bend down to it and run gloved fingers
through, cast pebbly snow aside,

the hoarfrost’s brittle strength. It’s some
old wart of earth, this callous plant

springs from. Great-grandmother’s chin

of a hill juts up to meet the wind’s
knuckles — but grasses now don’t blow.
Come muddy spring, they’ll thaw and turn
up happily for haying. Now — clump,
you’re just like me, but you can’t speak,
you don’t know me yet ... very well.


[beginning with a line from Ramsey Nasr, translated by Sarah Harvey]

“And the winter does nothing”
for the question of equilibrium.
I answered with trees swaying
and raised a zero above shoulders
to indicate that nothing is equal
to infinity on all sides. I wore
my zero as a hat, and as a badge
of honor awarded for not doing
anything at all. I keep in mind
a feeling of holding your crotch
in the palm of my hand — this
gives me solace: a comfort at
knowing something completely
without study, endlessly open.
Where the body turns, it can
ache, splitting easily apart. A
terrible way to go, but I can’t
write to you about this, so

I write to you about zero.