by Matvei Yankelevich



This text is written on buttons
so tightly sewn
to each other that no one
can read it. Clarify:
this text is written on the inside
side of many buttons all
of which are sewn together in a
necklace of buttons, so
that you can't even see
the text. In fact, the bead-
ed and contiguous
nature of these buttons
makes it impossible to
even know which side of each but-
ton is its inside side. In
the necklace of buttons sides don't
matter, every
side touches, is in contact.

Even so, the text is written
only on the inside side—the side
which was once in contact with, was
touching, the clothing people
wore. The clothing of the people
who once wore it but now do
not wear the clothing because

it does not have buttons. During
the war, all the buttons fell off. Those
that didn't fall off were cut
from the clothing of
the people. No the buttons no longer
touch the clothing—instead
they touch each other
on all sides. Buttons have two
sides, and two sides only.

At least these buttons. No one
can read this text. It's on
the buttons and
the buttons touch and so
there's no
room for an eye to get in
there (in between
the buttons). No, the button holes
don't help either. They're
stuffed with thread, the thread
that keeps the buttons touching. These
buttons are a sort
of entertainment, you might
say. Their holes are full
of thread, their sides touch.

Not even imaginary
characters can read
the text, not even a thought
experiment. Boris can't
read it even if I
asked him to. Benita
Canova can't read it. Nor
can Nietzsche. The hysteric one
can't. And the ontological
one, too.

The buttons are so close
together. You can't even un-
button them, you can't even
imagine them. These
are real buttons. My friends
can't read the buttons and you—
I don't even know my friends,
because on one side they
are my friends and on another
they're somebody else's
friend. Yours, maybe. Their own,
definitely. Imaginary, perhaps,

Buttons. The buttons.
I've never been so afraid
of buttons.




MATVEI YANKELEVICH is the author of a long poem, The Present Work (Palm Press, 2006) and the forthcoming book Boris by the Sea (Octopus, 2009). His writing has appeared in Boston Review, Damn the Caesars, Fence, Open City, Tantalum, Zen Monster, etc. His translations have appeared in journals including Calque, Circumference, Harpers, New American Writing, and The New Yorker. His translation of Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook, 2007) has received praise from the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He teaches at Hunter College and edits the Eastern European Poets Series at Ugly Duckling Presse.