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By Ilya Kaminsky

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.


Ilya Kaminsky, “Author’s Prayer” from Dancing in Odessa. Copyright © 2004 by Ilya Kaminsky. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.

Source: Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004)

Poet Bio

Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former USSR, and came to the US in 1993. He is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004) and currently teaches poetry and comparative literature at San Diego State University.

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