Monday, May 16, 2016

Praise by Ilya Kaminsky


. . .but one day through the gate left half-open
there are yellow lemons shining at us
and in our empty breasts
these golden horns of sunlight
pour their songs. 

          -- Montale 

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

two women strolling along the water front.
I open the windows of an apartment 

and say: I had masters once, they roared above me,
Who are we? Why are we here? 

the tales they told began with:
"mortality," "mercy." 

A lantern they carried still glitters in my sleep,
confused ghosts who taught me living simply. 

-- 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. 

I unmake these lines, dissolving in each vowel,
as Neruda said, my country 

I change my blood in your direction. The evening whispers
with its childlike, pulpy lips. 

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 

but the provinces of human longing:
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 obscure thoughts of God descending 

among a child's drum beats,
over you, over me, over the lemon trees 


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