Copyright © 2002 Bob Dornberg
. . . but one day through the gate left half-open,Time, my twin, take me by hand
there are yellow lemons shining at us
and in our empty breasts
these golden horns of sunlight
pour their songs.
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
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
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 shout: 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 phrases
fall 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.
Copyright © 2002
Ilya Kaminsky has won the National Russian Essay Contest, the National Shepardi Prize for Poetry and most recently, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry. In 1999-2000, he served as a George Bennett Fellow Writer-In-Residence at Phillips Exeter Academy. His manuscript, From the Province of Gratitude, was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and for the Walt Whitman Award. Current poems, essays, reviews and interviews appear or are forthcoming in Salmagundi, Doubletake, Southwest Review, Tikkun, The American Writing, Literary Review, Web Del Sol and other publications.