Ilya Kaminsky



(Ukraine- USA)






Time, my twin, take me by hand

through the streets of your city;

my days, your pigeons, are fighting for crumbs–




A woman asks at night for a story with a happy ending.

I have none. A refugee,


I go home and become a ghost

searching the houses I lived in. They say–


the father of my father of his father of his father was a prince who married a Jewish girl


against the Church’s will and his father’s will and

the father of his father. Losing all,


eager to lose: the estate, ships,

hiding this ring (his wedding ring), a ring


my father handed to my brother, then took. Handed,

then took, hastily. In a family album


we sit like the mannequins

of school-children


whose destruction,

like a lecture, is postponed.



Then my mother begins to dance, re-arranging

this dream. Her love


is difficult; loving her is simple as putting raspberries

in my mouth.


On my brother’s head: not a single

gray hair, he is singing to his twelve-month-old son.


And my father is singing

to his six-year-old silence.


This is how we live on earth, a flock of sparrows.

The darkness, a magician, finds quarters


behind our ears. We don’t know what life is,

who makes it, the reality is thick


with longing. We put it up to our lips

and drink.




I believe in childhood, a native land of math exams

that return and do not return, I see—


the shore, the trees, a boy

running across the streets like a lost god;


the light falls, touching his shoulder.


Where memory, an old flautist,

plays in the rain and his dog sleeps, its tongue


half hanging out;

for twenty years between life and death


I have run through silence: in 1993 I came to America.




America! I put the word on a page, it is my keyhole.

I watch the streets, the shops, the bicyclist, the oleanders.


I open the windows of an apartment

and say: I had masters once, they roared above me,


Who are we? Why are we here?

A lantern they carried still glitters in my sleep,


–in this dream: my father breathes

as if lighting a lamp over and over. The memory


is starting its old engine, it begins to move

and I think the trees are moving.


On the page’s soiled corners

my teacher walks, composing a voice;


he rubs each word in his palms:

“hands learn from the soil and broken glass,


“you cannot think a poem,” he says,

watch the light hardening into words.”




I was born in the city named after Odysseus

and I praise no nation—


to the rhythm of snow

an immigrant’s clumsy phrase 
falls into speech.


But you asked

for a story with a happy ending. Your loneliness


played its lyre. I sat

on the floor, watching your lips.


Love, a one legged bird

I bought for forty cents as a child, and released,


is coming back, my soul in reckless feathers.

O the language of birds


with no word for complaint! –

the balconies, the wind.


This is how, while darkness

drew my profile with its little finger,


I have learned to see past as Montale saw it,

the obscurer thoughts of God descending


among a child’s drum beats,

over you, over me, over the lemon trees.




4 AM Bombardment


My body runs in Arlemovsk Street, my clothes in a pillowcase:

I look for a man who looks

exactly like me, to give him my Sonya, my name, my shirt—

It has begun: neighbors climb trolleys

at the fish market, breaking all

their moments in half. I ran from the trolley that burst like an intestine in the sun – I see


Pavel shouts I am so fucking beautiful I cannot stand it.

Two boys, still holding tomato sandwiches

hop in the trolley’s light, soldiers aim at their faces. In their ears.

I can’t find my wife, where is my pregnant wife—

Confirmed by aircraft.  Hostile trarget. Affirmative.

I, a body, an adult male, await to explode like a handgrenade.


It has begun: I saw the blue canary of my country

pick breadcrumbs from each citizen’s eyes—

pick breadcrumbs from my neighbors’ hair—

the snow left the earth and fell straight up as it should—

to have a country, so important—

to rip into walls, into streetlights, into loved ones, as one should—

I saw the blue canary of my country—

rip into walls into streetlights, into loved ones—

I saw the blue canary of my country

watch their legs as they run and fall.












Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, Ukraine and currently lives in California. He is the author of « Dancing In Odessa » which has been translated in a dozen languages and published in many countries. In 2019, Graywolf Press in USA will publish his new collection, « Deaf Republic. He is the translator and editor of many books, including Ecco Anthology of International Poetry and Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. He is a professor at San Diego State University.


Articles similaires