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Author's Prayer

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

About this Poem:

Kaminsky suggests that we can pay our respects to the dead by praising life, by finding joy in something as ordinary as crossing a street. For Kaminsky's speaker, writing and living become rituals that redeem those who have passed before us.

About the Poet:

Ilya Kaminsky is a native of Odessa, Ukraine. A former immigration lawyer, he now teaches writing at San Diego State University. Kaminsky lost most of his hearing at age four.

Ilya Kaminsky, "Author's Prayer" from Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004). Copyright © 2004 by Ilya Kaminsky. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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