My steps were timid and hesitant as I walked across the junior college campus in the light rain. The campus was eerily quiet at night without the ordinary hustle and bustle of students. Repeatedly checking a slip of paper in my pocket, I searched the walls of buildings for numbers. Finally discovering the right building, I stole inside.
I peered uncomfortably around the cheerfully lit hallways and checked my paper yet again, noting the room number for the thirtieth time. There it was, up the stairs. I opened the door and stared uncomfortably into the lecture room.
Although I enjoyed creative writing and was even planning on being an English major, I had never attended a poetry reading. Even the words “poetry reading” conjured up images in my mind of unkempt flower children standing too close together, closing their eyes and swaying, ending the gathering with a group singing of “Kumbaya.” In contrast, about half the seats in the calm, brightly lit lecture room were filled with well-dressed students and intellectuals in sweaters, quietly murmuring to each other. I quickly chose a seat not too close to the front and pulled out my copy of Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa to review absentmindedly.
I suppose I had expected deaf, Russian poet Ilya Kaminsky to resemble my imagined poetry-obsessed hippies; he surprised me with his short curly hair, baby face, rectangular glasses, and boyish grin. After graciously accepting the compliments made in his introduction, Ilya Kaminsky began to read.
Startled, I resisted the urge to glance around at other members of the audience to gauge their reactions. Was everyone else hearing what I was hearing? The unintelligible, gibberish yelling? Although Kaminsky’s eyes were on the pages on his book, the alien sounds coming from his mouth were unrecognizable. I quickly flipped open my book to find the poem he was supposedly reading. With some difficulty, I waded through Kaminsky’s thick Russian accent and deaf pronunciation. As I listened and read, I discovered the words on the page.
I truly discovered them at that moment. When I had read them before, I had heard in my mind the clear voice of an English professor, calmly and concisely pronouncing the words. I had not, nor could I have, imagined them being raggedly sung so hotly and richly in the way of Ilya Kaminsky. As I listened and read, I caught hold of one golden thread from Kaminsky’s life, and clasped a silver rope of my own.
The city trembled,
A ghost-ship setting sail.
At night, I woke to whisper: yes, we lived.
We lived, yes, don't say it was a dream.
Flooding to my mind were a thousand memories; roller-skating down my street, singing in the shower, running the last few yards to the finish line, arriving in Sorrento at sunset, eating ice cream, tickling my baby nephew, crawling through mud caves, sobbing in my bedroom at night; a ghost-ship setting sail. The whisper resonated with me: yes, we lived. I lived! Yes! Don’t say it was a dream.
And in me was awakened a sense of wonder at this world of poetry I had so long ignored. I never knew that words could do this. I never knew that one page of so few words could lift the blindness from my eyes so completely. I lived, yes. Don’t say it was a dream.