Yvette Neisser – Three Poems


Mantra to Get through Winter

Maryland, January 2016

Pull me into winter
into the vapor from melting snow
the flocks of birds that swirl in sunless skies
the single cardinal on a bare branch
a moment of crimson in the white blur

Pull me into the snow
how it cushions the world
and nurtures the soil
pull me into the sodden grass
the mud the frost
let it be frozen and raw
let it bring green to the pale season

Pull me to icicles
drag my fingers along their shape
smooth and sharp

Pull me into the cold rush of the creek
lay me as a stone beneath the water

Press me to the trunk of an oak
let the bark scrape my face

Pull me under the surface
where frogs hibernate in mud
flowers hide in their seeds
and insects do their winter thing

Give me back the sensations
flakes wet on my face
wind slipping under my scarf
the slide of ice     the seep of mud
let me not hide
let me feel it

shake me alive


In memory of my grandmother, Sylvia Lehrich

Served black with sugar
at my grandmother’s house,
it cracked open the door
to the secret world of grown-ups,
letting us in to a dark sweetness,
letting us open the drawer
under the china cabinet
to take out the playing cards,
each deck with its own story
of Pinochle or a long-gone uncle.

Consumed upon entering any home
or departing, upon arising
and before lying down,
consumed with plum cake or fried matzah,
a crossword or the evening news,
or chocolates from the glass dish
that never ran empty.

Never to be replaced with coffee or wine,
never iced or infused with raspberry.

Never brewed with loose leaves
that might sink to the bottom
and tell our futures,
never to be herbal or chai,
never diluted with milk,
never to be served in anything
but teacup and saucer.

Just boil the water over the stove,
pour it over a fiber bag
with tea leaves stapled inside
and a tag hanging by a string.

Let the cup have an angled rim,
let it be white and shaped like petals,
let the handle be small enough
to hold with three fingers.

Let the color seep into hot water,
let the steam rise into your memory.

Drink it Lipton. Drink it black.

For Flavia D’Cunha, In Memoriam

Holding a cup of coffee,
still waking up, the sun

just brimming over the horizon
with all its morning fury,

then suddenly huge and brilliant,
casting a glare over these streets

so even the pavement
and the leaves of every tree

become white fire, the edges
of traffic lights so crisply clear

they shock your eyes.
So ordinary, so harsh.

That’s when you—
stepping off the curb

into another day,
towards the tiny beacon

of a lone bus sign
staked on a corner—

enter the white fire burning
in the eyes of one driver,

then make contact with asphalt,
that tarred surface

between us
and the vulnerable earth.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

I believe that beauty in poetry comes from the combination of words, images, and emotions. Even a horrific subject like war or a mundane subject like socks (a la Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks”) can be made somehow beautiful with words. For me, in the writing process, this often involves focusing on the sounds in a poem—vowel or consonant sounds—and looking for sound echoes. It involves pushing an image to its limit, making the image as precise and vivid as possible. Metaphor is often the way to do this, to create evocative images that convey emotion. I love the elegance of language in poetry, which elevates our everyday experiences and environment into art.

Yvette Neisser is the author of Grip, winner of the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award. Her translations from Spanish include South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri and Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio. Her poems, translations, essays, and reviews have appeared in such publications as Foreign Policy in Focus, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry. She is a founding Board Member of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT). More at: yvetteneisser.net.