Anthony DiMatteo







To a Friend Upon his Translation of

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground

(For Boris Jakim)


Decisions, decisions. What do you wish

in your note to me: “I hope you enjoy

your visit to this underground”?

Is it under ground like a buried seed

or, under erasure, a forbidden name?

A jazz bar down some steps, or is it

your new place, a downgrade?

Or is it a heart ground down

or thrown up, a free or a dead

space that turns up everywhere,

under a cloud, a bill or a sandwich,

or a beloved strand of hair,

beneath a word or discarded

beer cap festooned with ketchup,

remnant of last summer’s picnic,

reminding me of our comrade Lucie

who just died. At the turn

of any page, we fall in.


All day I’ve heard D beneath my feet

whisper in your sheepish voice:

“Why grovel when you can go below?”

Beyond my four walls, birds

in a pine tree. Outside the market,

a homeless man flips me the bird,

my thoughts like the spare change

I toss him. Some are more underlings

than others, first and last, equal.


Later, when my dentist puts me under,

I see D’s dentist Wagenheim

opening his mouth, your English

wagging D’s tongue. It twitches upstream,

beckoning me to trail you trailing him,

St. Petersburg to Port Washington,

the Neva flowing into Long Island Sound,

Russians speaking English, wandering America.

I wear the rundown clothes you dress D in –

I too can’t pay the dentist, but the shrill voice

of Necessity calls. What language does it speak?


On the drive home, an accident

affords time. I reach back for your D

and enter a little grotto sunk

between his pages, hidden

just off Montauk highway. Who knew?

At the corners of Union and Division,

I doze into allegory. D’s troll

stares out my rear view mirror,

drooling humiliation, telling me

to go slower, deeper, just when

I felt most clear about who I am,

on what side of which street or nation.

The river will not disclose its secret.

Sign in my brain flashes: lost and found.

A traffic cop gestures me to move along.


I thank you for this haunting, Boris,

for this reawakening of a dead man

in my backyard, at the wheel I spin –

thank you for his hole in my head.

Congratulations! Félicitation!

Or should I try to say – is it, pozdravleniya?


Now a wager: can we stroll

our own floorboards and not fall in?

Will the good times allow us more?

D makes us toast the worm,

I think, first and last, urging us

to find, “zee light inside zee hole.”

For that is what it takes – can I say it? –

zhivaya zhizn – living the living life.




Works In Progress




In my dream I am a child again

asking me where he has gone

in the maze of possibilities that

once greeted us each morning.

I check my pockets for an answer,

perhaps a photograph in my wallet

offering a clue, but he chuckles

when I show him. “That’s a picture

you have of what we looked like then,

but I am much more than a look.”


He gestures me to follow along,

across the road, through a brief

tangle of trees, a field of weeds,

and then a string of new stores

which he points out were not there

in his heyday though here now

in this dream I’ve given him.

He leads me by the hand.

I buy myself some candy as a child.


Behind the stores a few trees

still hold on. “We never went

to the creek that ran through the woods.

I wanted to go taste. Now

it’s too late. The water’s gone under

the way my life’s beneath yours.”


Then he vanishes. I turn round to see

a set of tracks in snow that cut

a straight path except where

it breaks off to the woods.

I look there. There’s a bird

in a tree, its head turned aslant.

It ponders me and flies off.




When I wake or think I have,

I peer down the stretch of my body

and up to the sky as if I were

a divining rod or a flower,

a channel for currents and flows,

and I know the child is my source

that can only be fleet, never seen,

like a root one must not dig up

but trusted in and kept sweet.


A loud knock jolts me as I

conjure remnants of the dream.

I call out, “what’s going on up there?”

My son and friends have broken something

in the attic where I live in the now,

his father, he who has to say

the party’s over to a child

at the top of the stairs.

He looks down and runs off.


Were my dream to translate to advice,

as if in secret a spirit has revealed,

should I give this child the last word?

As if there’s anyone who keeps one last,

or there can be anyone of them that lasts!

The child in me wants to run off

and join my son in the wild fray,

who we are and were in tension

in our lives back and forth,

old and young interlocked.

But I have to say “no” now,

and not for a last time I am sure.

I have to act a role, a father’s,

that does not sit well with him or me.

No one part is the only part

at any one time we play.


My son must prove parent to his man,

and I look still within to the child I am.

A self across time alters in dialogue

with others and within as we strive

to act our age, a crossroads mind needed

that sees the path behind as settled

though open-ended where one stands,

perhaps in a meadow not seen before.


What else can a child teach me at my age,

the one I dream and he who is his own?




The Fate of Song

(On George Frederic Watts’ painting The Genius of Greek Poetry)


The painter’s poet or any maker

rests on the split rock of the work

looking back across a stream,

a sudden, relentless flow

more bridge than divide.

The singer turns to wild applause –

or is it rage? The dead,

living in his voice, now dive

back to earth, wanting to yield

once again, for who would return?

Outside, the people raise up arms

in clamor and acclaim,

looking for that sky the poet

has shown them how to fly,

his rock, plateau for their minds.

But see, the song has ended.

The poet touches his silent mouth,

cradle of voice, portal of song.

Is it blessing or wound?

Will dancers praise

the ancient world revealed

or tear him to shreds,

ecstasy lost to fear?


The poet knows it for a dream,

but when the music stops, no one

wants their leaden feet again.

The poet’s naked, without the wings

on which he made them rise,

his rock, once a perch, never

a fort, soon an altar not yet

stained with blood and tears,

blessings and wounds the same.

Even the stream will run dry,

and the stone will not endure.

Voice, then words, will fade,

and the song freed at last

by a silence after rain.



– from Greetings From Elysium (Finishing Line Press, 2015)












Anthony DiMatteo‘s recent poems and reviews have sprouted in the Cortland Review, Hunger Mountain, Los Angeles Review, Verse Daily, and Waccamaw. His current book of poems In Defense of Puppets has been hailed as, « a rare collection, establishing a stunningly new poetic and challenging the traditions that DiMatteo (as Renaissance scholar) claims give the poet ‘the last word’”


(Cider Press Review).


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