Watch a video by Matvei Yankelevich and Jeanne Liotta based on excerpts from Yankelevich’s long poem Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt.
Eucalyptus leaves stir, a slow
tremble outside the automobile
factory. There is
a world, an image
by speech. The article
definitely missing from the gates.
VW crossing the plaid field.
You could say “of vision”
but you don’t. There
is a world, a repetition
by rhyme. The soccer
player breaks his ankle
thanks to the game he loves.
Small sacrifice. Poor trees—
knowing so little
of their own tragedy: To sway,
to shake in the wind,
to sough and bow.
On what field of vision
does the horse graze
on fallen pine needles? Where
is the man welding green
light by the glowing
pink cross on the corner?
There is a world—a relation
by the vast potential
of introspection. Truck
full of cane. A truck-full
of laborers. Factory road.
Sugar on one side. Beer
on the other. Graffiti.
Farms. Fires by the culvert
keep down the brush. Hawk
on a telephone wire—culture
circling above. White egret
jutting out of the marsh where
cattle leave little to the earth.
Is there bone below the bark?
Trees leaf while mountains shimmer.
Their architecture of bumpy triangulation
pulling their weight up to a taper. Outside
the phrasing there is a world that may
never come. A rhythm or a slide through
a wheel. All the insides spilling forth and
outside the furniture has taken to the streets,
set up makeshift shop to counter
the movement of numbers, to couch
the specter of concepts. To be
outside the period, awaiting what won’t
come, as if at a backward wake, watching
the horizon for the event. Running the race
around the table or vice versa. The ground
literally swells, heaves like the ocean,
breathes like air, forgetting its previous
location as one forgets one’s phone number,
one’s own face. A farce of bounded visions,
imperial nostalgia. Come, history, break.
The origin equals the forgotten. Worlds begin
Swish swish and a couple of noodles.
And a kind of broken bench, the bended armrest,
a trace of a sort of plush or velvet in green iron.
A man in long shorts working on a door jamb
but no walls around, the door open. Closed gates,
rattling fences. Grey in gravel around green,
the observation of observation. Correspondence
of color, or conversation of light? To make things
right again, blink your eyes. The purpose of night
cutting dawn’s ribbon, kerning out. Spaces getting
wider, but rarer as day fills in. Farther out
the pines grow shorter. When do you begin to speak
so that no one can hear? The line—where is it
drawn between what is an idea and what is a thing?
The line is the sign for it, or a name. The glimpse or
the grasp take note of it without the proper distance,
and all these questions, you can ask them at the edge
of the parking lot, standing along straight demarcations
of spots. Beyond the blacktop begin the sands,
the shrub, broken chunks of curbstone, leftovers
from the dig. You note a self-reliance in thick weeds
and in slick grass, a gumption. You imagine evading
taxes in a wood where there is a world of symbolic
meaning in the branches of the shaggy undergrowth.
These worlds are the points where branches meet
in the removal of depth of field, much as the stars
map endpoints of a chart of lines, and are no more
than serifs snapped on tips of invisible letters. Meeting
in the eye, these intersections are after all only dots
of depth conspiring to drop their own dimensionality
to distort the memory of space, mocking transparency
as hats deride heads.
—Matvei Yankelevich is the author of Boris by the Sea (Octopus Books), and the translator of Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Ardis/Overlook). A new collection of poems, Alpha Donut, will be released this spring by United Artists Books. He is a member of the writing faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College and one of the founding editors of Ugly Duckling Presse, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit publishing collective. Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt is a long poem that began as a text commissioned by the Dia Foundation to be read one summer night in 2011 at the Dan Flavin Art Institute during the exhibition of Koo Jeong A’s Dr. Vogt, an installation of 60 drawings. Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt is, at this time, still a work in progress.
—Jeanne Liotta makes films and other cultural ephemera. For more, visit
This issue of First Proof is funded, in part, by Amazon, the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation, and the Thanksgiving Fund.
Additional funding is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and readers like you.