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Two Poems by Ilya Kaminsky

from Musica Humana


I am reading aloud the book of my life on earth

and confess, I loved grapefruit.

In a kitchen: sausages; tasting vodka,

the men raise their cups.

A boy in a white shirt, I dip my finger

into sweetness. Mother washes

behind my ears. And we speak of everything

that does not come true,

which is to say: it was August.

August! the light in the trees, full of fury. August

filling hands with language that tastes like smoke.

Now, memory, pour some beer,

salt the rim of the glass; you

who are writing me, have what you want:

a golden coin, my tongue to put it under.

Envoi
“You will die on a boat from Yalta to Odessa”
— a fortune teller, 1992

What ties me to this earth? In Massachusetts,

the birds force themselves into my lines —

the sea repeats itself, repeats, repeats.

I bless the boat from Yalta to Odessa

and bless each passenger, his bones, his genitals,

bless the sky inside his body,

the sky my medicine, the sky my country.

I bless the continent of gulls, the argument of their order.

The wind, my master

insists on the joy of poplars, swallows, —

bless one woman’s brows, her lips

and their salt, bless the roundness

of her shoulder. Her face, a lantern

by which I live my life.

You can find us, Lord, she is a woman dancing with her eyes closed

and I am a man arguing with this woman

among nightstands and tables and chairs.

Lord, give us what you have already given.


Ilya Kaminsky is an American poet whose native language is Russian. Born in Odessa in 1977, he is the coeditor of
The Ecco Anthology of World Poetry. Although he has published only one collection of his own work, Dancing in Odessa, his linguistic gifts are already acknowledged. The excerpt from “Musica Humana” and the poem “Envoi” are both taken from Dancing in Odessa, which was published by Tupelo Press. They are reprinted by permission.

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from Musica Humana


I am reading aloud the book of my life on earth

and confess, I loved grapefruit.

In a kitchen: sausages; tasting vodka,

the men raise their cups.

A boy in a white shirt, I dip my finger

into sweetness. Mother washes

behind my ears. And we speak of everything

that does not come true,

which is to say: it was August.

August! the light in the trees, full of fury. August

filling hands with language that tastes like smoke.

Now, memory, pour some beer,

salt the rim of the glass; you

who are writing me, have what you want:

a golden coin, my tongue to put it under.

Envoi
“You will die on a boat from Yalta to Odessa”
— a fortune teller, 1992

What ties me to this earth? In Massachusetts,

the birds force themselves into my lines —

the sea repeats itself, repeats, repeats.

I bless the boat from Yalta to Odessa

and bless each passenger, his bones, his genitals,

bless the sky inside his body,

the sky my medicine, the sky my country.

I bless the continent of gulls, the argument of their order.

The wind, my master

insists on the joy of poplars, swallows, —

bless one woman’s brows, her lips

and their salt, bless the roundness

of her shoulder. Her face, a lantern

by which I live my life.

You can find us, Lord, she is a woman dancing with her eyes closed

and I am a man arguing with this woman

among nightstands and tables and chairs.

Lord, give us what you have already given.


Ilya Kaminsky is an American poet whose native language is Russian. Born in Odessa in 1977, he is the coeditor of
The Ecco Anthology of World Poetry. Although he has published only one collection of his own work, Dancing in Odessa, his linguistic gifts are already acknowledged. The excerpt from “Musica Humana” and the poem “Envoi” are both taken from Dancing in Odessa, which was published by Tupelo Press. They are reprinted by permission.

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