“Exile”: For Ilya Kaminsky

A Poem by Carolyn Forché

March 28, 2022  By Carolyn Forché

The city of your childhood rises between steppe and sea, wheat and light,
white with the dust of cockleshells, stargazers, and bones of pipefish,
city of limestone soft enough to cut with a hatchet, where the sea
unfurls and acacias brought by Greeks on their ships
turn white in summer. So yes, you remember, this is the city you lost,
city of smugglers and violinists, chess players and monkeys,
an opera house, a madhouse, a ghost church with wind for its choir
where two things were esteemed: literature and ships, poetry and the sea.
If you return now, it will not be as a being visible to others, and when
you walk past, it will not be as if a man had passed, but rather as if
someone had remembered something long forgotten and wondered why.
If you return, your father will be alive to prepare for you
his mint-cucumber soup or give you the little sweet called bird’s milk,
and after hours of looking with him for his sandals lost near the sea,
you visit again together the amusement park where
your ancestors are buried and then go home to the apartment house
built by German prisoners of war, to whom your father gave bread,
which you remember surprised you. You take the tram to a stop
where it is no longer possible to get off, and he walks
with you until he vanishes, still holding in his own your invisible hand.


Carolyn Forché, In the Lateness of the World

From In the Lateness of the World: Poems by Carolyn Forché, published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché
Carolyn Forché
Carolyn Forché is an American poet, translator, and memoirist. Her books of poetry are Blue Hour, The Angel of History, The Country Between Us, Gathering the Tribes, and In the Lateness of the World. Her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True, was published by Penguin Press in 2019. In 2013, Forché received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship given for distinguished poetic achievement. In 2017, she became one of the first two poets to receive the Windham-Campbell Prize. She is a University Professor at Georgetown University. She lives in Maryland with her husband, photographer Harry Mattison.

More Story
Anna Badkhen on Failed Migrations Amid Climate Crisis and Colonial Greed Emergence Magazine is an online publication with annual print edition exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture,...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.