If I speak for the dead, I must leave
this animal of my body,
I must write the same poem over and over,
for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.
If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge
of myself, I must live as a blind man
who runs through rooms without
touching the furniture.
Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking "What year is it?"
I can dance in my sleep and laugh
in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,
I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak
of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say
is a kind of petition, and the darkest
days must I praise.
Born on April 18 1977, Ilya Kaminsky was raised in Odessa, Ukraine, the former Soviet Union. At the age of four, he lost most of his hearing after a misdiagnosis. Kaminsky is the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), winner of the Anisfield-Wolf and LA Times Book Awards; Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), which received multiple awards including the Dorset Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Metcalf Award; and Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002).
Poem reproduced with the kind permission of Ilya Kaminsky and Tupelo Press.