We were leaving Odessa in such a hurry that we forgot the suitcase filled with English dictionaries outside our apartment building. I came to America without a dictionary, but a few words did remain:
Forgetting: an animal of light. A small ship catches a wind and sails.
Past: figures coming to the water’s edge, carrying lamps. Water is suspiciously cold. Many are standing on the shore, the youngest throwing hats in the air.
Sanity: a barrier separating me from madness is not a barrier, really. A huge aquarium filled with water weeds, turtles, and golden fish. I see flashes: movements, names inscribed on the foreheads.
A swift laugh: she leaned over, intrigued. I drank too fast.
Dead: entering our dreams, the dead become inanimate objects: branches, teacups, door-handles. I wake and wish I could carry this clarity with me.
If you will it, it is no dream.
October: grapes hung like the fists of a girl
gassed in her prayer. Memory,
I whisper, stay awake.
In my veins
long syllables tighten their ropes, rains come
right out of the eighteenth century
Yiddish or a darker language in which imagination
is the only word.
Imagination! a young girl dancing polka,
unafraid, betrayed by the Lord's death
(or his hiding under the bed when the Messiah
In my country, evenings bring the rain water, turning
poplars bronze in a light that sparkles on these pages
where I, my fathers,
unable to describe your dreams, drink
my silence from a cup.
Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former Soviet Union, and arrived to the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government. Ilya is the author of Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004) which won the Whiting Writer's Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Metcalf Award, the Dorset Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Fellowship given annually by Poetry magazine. Dancing In Odessa was also named Best Poetry Book of the Year 2004 by ForeWord Magazine.