Elegy

by Ilya Kaminsky
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They say so much sky in her chest addicted her.
They claim, with inappropriate laughter, she requested

to be locked in a bird house, refusing to believe in silence
Sonya Barabinski goes to the Opera with chickens in her pockets.

She bites a hole in an apple and in that hole
she pours a shot of vodka.

She drinks from the apple in turn, to our health!
—just before her death—Sonya

announces: I will become a government musician
whispering: Better one of them should

die than one of us—
in the chill and iron heart of cobblestone street every woman she meets

comes forth to kiss her face.
Every mother buried just east of town, an honest place

to drown, quiet homegrown bodies
lie down. Under this earth, she is no less blessed.

Those still alive must raise their hands.
She sets off for the beach, on foot, a good mile

and a half of wind,
a vodka glass in her pockets, and when the bottle is empty

she drops her striped dress and walks, her mouth open, into the sea. “Boatswain, I am your daughter! I let this water

fill my lungs’ whisper: boatswain, I am your pregnant daughter.”
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kaminskyIlya Kaminsky is the author of “Dancing In Odessa.” His poems have been translated into numerous langauges and his books have been published in many countries including Turkey, Holland, Russia, France, Mexico, Macedonia, Romania, Spain and China. 

Ilya, who was born in Odessa, in the Ukraine, in what was the former Soviet Union, moved to the United States in 1993 when his family was granted asylum by the U.S. government. He has won the Lannan Foundation’s Literary Fellowship, and poems from his manuscript-in-progress, “Deaf Republic,” were awarded Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize, as well as the Pushcart Prize. 

Kaminsky has worked as a law clerk for San Francisco Legal Aid and the National Immigration Law Center. He curently works as the Court Appointed Special Advocate for Orphaned Children in Southern California. Currently, he teaches English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.