Ilya Kaminsky

from Natalia (live)

Ilya Kaminsky reading from Natalia live at Bowdoin College, February 2, 2006.
On the night I met her, the Rabbi sang and sighed,
god’s lips on his brow, Torah in his arms.
—I unfastened her stockings, worried
that I have stopped worrying.
She slept in my bed–I slept on a chair,
she slept on a chair–I slept in the kitchen,
she left her slippers in my shower, in my Torah,
her slippers in each sentence I spoke.
I said: those I love—die, grow old, are born.
But I love the stubbornness of your bedclothes!
I bite them, taste bedclothes—
the sweet mechanism of pillows and covers.
A serious woman, she danced
without a shirt, covering what she could.
We lay together on Yom Kippur, chosen by a wrong God,
the people of a book, broken by a book.
“Let me kiss you inside your elbow,
Natalia, sister of the careful”
— he spoke of gratitude, his fingers
trembling as he spoke.
She unfastened two buttons of his trousers —
to learn two languages:
One for ankles, and one for remembering.
Or maybe she thought it was bad luck
to have a dressed man in the house.
With an eyebrow pencil, she painted
his mustache: it made her
want to touch him and she didn’t.
She opened her robe and
closed it, opened and closed it again,
she whispered: come here, nervous
he followed her on his tiptoes.
We fell in love and eight years passed.
Eight years. Carefully, I dissect this number:
we’ve lived with three cats in five cities,
learning how a man ages invisibly.
Eight years! Eight! – we chilled lemon vodka, and we kissed
on the floor, among the peels of lemons.
And each night, we stood up and saw ourselves:
a man and a woman kneel, whispering Lord,
one word the soul destroys to make clear.
How magical it is to live! it rained at the market
with my fingers, she tapped out her iambics
on the back of our largest casserole,
and we sang, Sweet dollars,
why aren’t you in my pockets?

Ilya Kaminsky
Natalia was published in Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004).
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Ilya Kaminsky
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission of the author
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse