Ilya Kaminsky

Ilya Kaminsky Poems

If I speak for the dead, I must leave
this animal of my body,

I kissed a woman
whose freckles
aroused our neighbors.

It is December 8 and my brother Tony was killed by the soldiers. December 8 and the police are reopening the Southern Trolleyways. December 8 when my wife lifts Tony's body from the ground,

Each man has a quiet that revolves
around him as he beats his head against the earth. But I am laughing

hard and furious. I pour a glass of pepper vodka

Motionless forgetful music of women and men
touching each forehead, breathing a soul into each immeasurable other,
on earth where we are, stranger, through madness unattainable
or grace, in difficult traffic reaching for each immeasurable other:

Yet I am. I exists. I has
a body,
When I see

Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air,
a story sung by those who danced before the Lord in quiet.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise

Don't forget this: Men who live in this time remember the price of each bottle of vodka. Sunlight on the canal outside the train-station. With the neighbor's ladder,

"You must speak not only of great devastation
but of women kissing in the yellow grass!"

I heard this not from a great philosopher
but from my brother Tony

Through Vasenka: a herd of boys runs. With their icy hands they haul a policeman and for an apple a look they display the man on the asphalt.

I look at you, Alfonso
and say

to the late

I am not a poet, Sonya I inspect
the fragrant feet of younger ladies—

While deafness hums as a little motor
I watch her stand in the shower

I remember Tony arguing in front of his mirrors, the soldiers
were painting the trees, Tony sat

on the floor of white hair, and all the trees were

Running down Vasenka street my clothes in a pillowcase
I was looking for a man who looks exactly like me
so I could give him my Sonya, my name, my clothes.

Dr. Alfonso Barabinsky wants
to go outside
I hold him down with my smaller body.
He walks, runs from his shoes to my kitchen.

I watch loud animal bones in their faces & I can smell the earth.
Our boys want a public killing in a sunlit piazza
They drag a young policeman, a sign in his arms swaying

Love cities, this is what my brother taught me
as he cut soldiers' hair, then tidied tomatoes
watching Sonya and I dance on a soapy floor—
I open the window, say in a low voice, my brother.

To your voice, a mysterious virtue,
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,

And when they bombed other people's houses, we

but not enough, we opposed them but not

[an elegy for Osip Mandelstam]
[A modern Orpheus: sent to hell, he never returned, while his widow searched across one sixth of the earth's surface, clutching the saucepan with his songs rolled up inside,

Ilya Kaminsky Biography

Ilya Kaminsky (born April 18, 1977 in Odessa, Soviet Union, now Ukraine) is a Ukrainian born Russian-Jewish-American poet, critic, translator and professor. He began to write poetry seriously as a teenager in Odessa, publishing a chapbook in Russian entitled The Blessed City. His first published poetry collection in English was a chapbook, Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002). His second collection in English, Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), earned him a 2005 Whiting Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Metcalf Award, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and the Dorset Prize, and was named the 2005 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year in Poetry. In 2008, he was awarded a Lannan Literary Fellowship. His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The Kenyon Review, New Republic, Harvard Review, Poetry. Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former Soviet Union (now Ukraine), on April 18, 1977. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Kaminsky lost most of his hearing at age 4. He lost his homeland at age 16, when family sought political asylum." At the time, he spoke no English, and continued to write in Russian while learning English. Kaminsky earned his Bachelor of Arts at Georgetown University, and went on to receive his J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He has been invited to teach and read poetry at literary centers, colleges and universities from Harvard to Naropa. He has also worked as a Law Clerk at the National Immigration Law Center, and more recently, at Bay Area Legal Aid, helping the poor and homeless to solve their legal difficulties. He currently teaches in the graduate creative writing program at San Diego State University, and lives in San Diego with his wife, Katie Farris.)

The Best Poem Of Ilya Kaminsky

Author's Prayer

If I speak for the dead, I must leave
this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over,
for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.

If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge
of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through rooms without
touching the furniture.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking "What year is it?"
I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition, and the darkest
days must I praise.

Ilya Kaminsky Comments

Magdalena Biela 22 May 2022

A penetrating book, built on the most intimate fibers of the soul. Intense poems, rock-hard words, heartbreaking images... A book you can't forget soon and easily. Gratitude to the author for this creation!

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