Ilya Kaminsky was born in 1977 in Odessa in The Ukraine (then the Soviet Union), and came to the United States in 1993 when his family was granted political asylum. He is the author of the chapbook Musica Humana and Dancing in Odessa, which won several awards. He’s also received a Whiting Writers’ Award, the annual Ruth Lilley Poetry Fellowship and a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.
Kaminksy has served as co-editor of The Ecco Book of International Poetry (2010) and as editor and translator for This Lamentable City: Poems of Polina Barskova (2010). He teaches contemporary world poetry, creative writing and literary translation in the Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at San Diego State University.
This is the title poem from Dancing in Odessa (2004).
Dancing in Odessa
We lived north of the future, days opened
letters with a child’s signature, a raspberry, a page of sky.
My grandmother threw tomatoes
from her balcony, she pulled imagination like a blanket
over my head. I painted
my mother’s face. She understood
loneliness, hid the dead in the earth like partisans.
The night undressed us (I counted
its pulse) my mother danced, she filled the past
with peaches, casseroles. At this, my doctor laughed, his granddaughter
touched my eyelid – I kissed
the back of her knee. The city trembled,
a ghost-ship setting sail.
And my classmate invented twenty names for Jew.
He was an angel, he had no name,
Wrestled, yes. My grandfather fought
The German tanks on tractors, I kept a suitcase full
Of Brodsky’s poems. The city trembled,
A ghost-ship setting sail.
At night, I woke to whisper: yes, we lived.
We lived, yes, don’t say it was a dream.
At the local factory, my father
took a handful of snow, put it in my mouth.
The sun began a routine narration,
Whitening their bodies: mother, father dancing, moving
As the darkness spoke behind them.
It was April. The sun washed the balconies, April.
I retell the story the light etches
into my hand: Little book, go to the city without me.