A Journal

"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave".----Breece D'J Pancake, in a letter to his mother. 

Matvei Yankelevich

Winter Landscape

Ice floes on the beach
rosemary in the garden, ivy
green, dismal, ever crow
calling crow — the pallor
of sound. The plot thickens to oil
from water. An injustice
that cannot be avenged: a bird
hitting the screen. Absence of sun
on a blue wing. Back of light.
Wet bark. A moment that passes
passes by. Tremolo of years
changing hands. No trace
of a change, humorless earth
black rot on tall stems. Missing
parts, parks full of them. Breath
be still, silent. The grass — an
obituary in plain sight; in hind-
sight, a life. At 3:12 am, January
5th, the night of the 4th, I
thanked you for everything
and you thanked me
for everything.

After Landscape

One named I writes to remember
what it was like to see all this
as a child, as clouds float below
as the notebook gives up its white
open possibilities, almost filled up
and done with. To recall that world
from this world is like to step back
into the poem's beginning
imagining no end in sight.
So much of the past is useless,
just as tall people appear beautiful
simply because they are tall, even
if otherwise, they're just the same
as everyone down here. The sun
bakes only the right side of the bird,
the tops of the clouds crust over,
rising in the oven of the sun's eye,
but all else remains in shadow,
cold, unyielding, so that nothing
can be said about that save
a perspectival a shift — stand
there, look up, that way.


The souvenir … really a verb, a substantive, I think it'd be called, from the Latin for "to occur to the mind." It's supposed to remind you of an event or a place, but most of my souvenirs just remind me of a person, a time. A postcard with Thomas Bernhard on a bench outside a café, young boys behind him making faces. It reminds me not of Vienna, where I've never been, but the dear friend and true love of my early twenties that gave the card to me, because of our shared crush on Bernhard. The strangest one perhaps is the hexagonal silver ring, from Morocco, given to me by very close friends around the year 2000. (It was a pair with another ring they gave to the same true love I just mentioned.) I wore it for about ten years without ever taking it off for more than a minute... and then took it off just before I received the news that my father had died. I'm not sure why I'd taken it off. What occurs to the mind in this case? It's still my "favorite ring" but I haven't worn it since, fearing it might have some kind of bad luck, though I'm not generally so superstitious. And I don't know if it's bad luck to wear it, or bad luck not to… The evidence is somehow contradictory. Has life been difficult since then because I stopped wearing the ring? It reminds me of those days around the time of my father's death, it reminds me of my friends who went to Morocco, it reminds me of my true love… memories that are events every time they occur to the mind.


Matvei Yankelevich is the author of the poetry collection Alpha Donut (United Artists Books) and the novella-in-fragments Boris by the Sea (Octopus Books), and the translator of Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook/Ardis). He is one of the founding editors of Ugly Duckling Presse. He has recently taught at Columbia University's School of the Arts and for the MFA in Writing at Long Island University, and is a member of the Writing Faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. In the Spring of 2014, Matvei is the resident director of Salt & Cedar Letterpress in Detroit.