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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kay Kelly

Postcards to Ilya Kaminsky, in La Piccioletta Barca

Updated: Jun 25, 2022

Profound thanks to UK-based Arts journal, La Piccioletta Barca, for naming as Finalist my poem (hybrid form), "Postcards to Ilya Kaminsky", which appears in the just-released Antimatter Issue, online here: La Piccioletta Barca is brimming with intelligent, original work. Check it out!

Photo made in Sighisoara, 2019

Postcards addressed to Ilya Kaminsky by Deborah Kelly

8/3 Dear Ilya, I took a photo today at the Denver airport, of a young woman seated at a departure gate: pink-floss hair, crying through eyelash glue. She was going home to a shot-up shopping mall and a series of funerals, back in El Paso, Texas. On her lap, a sketchbook of ink drawings opened to a page full of gesturing hands. 8/4 Dear Ilya, I took the wrong bus from Heathrow Airport and so toured the thoroughfares of Southhall. Veils and robes. So many kinds of veils and robes. They don’t like each other, here or anywhere, that much is clear from watching. Just as in so-called Western cultures, but with more fabric. We all know we’re in trouble and either say nothing or, if we can, we make art and activism and love. Or we wear God, a god, or gods, wrapped around our bodies and faces. We see heaven in various ways, depending on the style of cloth. And I become sad in crowds. So much wet dust. Some so difficult to touch, in a cosmos from which no kind of energy or matter is ever lost, just changed. My solace is the possibility of a collective consciousness. My hope is in mycelia. 8/5 Dear Ilya, Today I visited the court palace of King Henry VIII and his successors. They spared nothing for the glory of king and kingdom: I saw Prince William’s wee, red, velvet-seated loo; yew trees along the garden promenade, clipped and hemmed like hoop-skirts; and on a dining room table, paper replicas of swans and peacocks and pigs that were served on platters to King William. A small public was invited sometimes to watch him eat, from behind a braided cord, so the kingdom would know he had a healthy appetite and be confident in his hardiness to rule. I went to the palace with a man who had stage-four brain cancer, some of which could not be excised by last month’s surgery, and whose left lobe now has a steel shield instead of bone. I stood with my right ear toward my friend, so I could hear what he said, my other one being injured. I’d just learned I, too, have an unwanted growth in my brain, but it is small and between lobes. On the palace grounds we watched a swan sleep, her tiger-lily bill tucked under her wing. All afternoon I’ve tried to be outside in the sunlight, as a remedy for jetlag. The Sun, without scion or successor, another point of light bound to its own finite gravity while it burns. 8/6 Dear Ilya, I’m in Cluj. The memory of war here feels both archaic and a present threat. I didn’t imagine this. And the unprecedented heat throughout Europe is so much harder in any city, harder still where mold is more common than moss. The historic center is charming, of course. It is undergoing restoration from Ceausescu’s masks, his concrete slabs. 8/15 Dear Ilya, I saw The Ukraine yesterday from across the river-border in the Romanian county of Oas. People over here say we’re far away from the troubles in Northern Ukraine. Do places look different right before trouble starts? Can you see it from across a river? A few kilometers from Sighet, we drove through forest. It was haunted, or I was, but I kept quiet so others wouldn’t see. Ghost Jews marked and then unmarked. Trains without seats. Elie Wiesel's eyes on his cheekbones. And again, now, we grieve between goodbyes and greetings, in terror because our world is under so much threat. Our tea, if taken alone, tastes burnt. If taken together with milk, still burnt, but with milk. I didn’t used to drink tea with milk. My survival depends on distraction—to buy shoes that will last for years, friendship with a woman who cultivates pears. To sit on a patio imagining my sons and daughter kissing loved-ones hundreds or thousands of times or more. To sort sentimental objects for review in old hands, when I’m old. 8/16 Dear Ilya, I’m round. When I wonder where my head is, I have to push it out. What kind of girl is a myth of one like me? This also is a distraction. 8/17 Dear Ilya, This part of Europe at this time of world frightens me some, like I told you. The fascists in Spain seemed so long-gone when I was there two or three years ago, reading Lorca, considering his poems delicious and the location of his murder mysterious. Now, so close to the borders of states ready to crush anything, and not for glory, with emblems of past authoritarian regimes still visible on the sides of buildings, I don’t feel like a tourist, but like I’m reading news of a wartime not long-enough past, or too recently begun to accurately recount. With my own country splitting and sweating, twitching and armed, whatever safety I’ve felt within it is dissolving. 8/19 Dear Ilya, I’ve left Romania and am now in Oxford, England for a few days. It is crowded with crowds of Chinese (and some Japanese) tour groups. I’ve learned that, to get anywhere, I have to disregard their mania for taking photographs of each other, fashion-forward and painstakingly one-at-a-time. The Bridge of Sighs. The US is in a trade war with China and an armed diplomatic crisis with a militarized North Korea. Beijing is cracking down on protesters fighting to maintain the autonomy of Hong Kong. I must be in a dozen Chinese travel photos, determinedly rushing through a medieval square. 8/20 Dear Ilya, The Oxford Botanical Garden, where I went today, is located on the grounds of a 12th Century Jewish cemetery, which was plowed over for creation of the park in the 13th. Jewish burials were henceforth ordered done on land a ways down Dead Man’s Lane. A plaque at the Garden entrance states that, in the following century, King Edward the First expelled all Jews from England. It doesn’t say why. The desecrated graves remain beneath the flower beds, the largest of which are of plants known for their ability to self-perpetuate, and to survive both drought and poor soil. 8/21 Dear Ilya, I took a photo today of where the mad Queen Anne collapsed under her excesses. The tour guide suggested the cause was too much cocoa. She was barely alive after that. There is too much to know, even if one only tries to learn the curated past. Sitting on the terrace of a restaurant, I ask: What is there to know about the robust naked torso of a man, a sculpture, centered among the polite diners? What is to know is that everyone ignores him, buttocks hovering over the backs of a German family and their hamburgers, giving full-frontal, fruited shade to the elderly gentleman in his summer hat, who forks apart his whole-mackerel dinner. 8/24 Dear Ilya, While staying this week at Doorknocker College, I’ve tried to be open-minded, but people here balance tiddlywinks on their noses. What’s more, they take their tiddlywinks very seriously. I remember that people at The University of Chicago, where I once worked, had the same custom. It is harder to maintain during harsh winters, trying to cross quads in the wind. That great leveler of all things, the wind. I head home to my Colorado mountains tomorrow.

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