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Ilya Kaminsky

Deafness, An Insurgency, Begins

Our country woke up the next morning and refused to hear soldiers.
    In the name of Petya, we refuse.
    At six a.m., when soldiers compliment girls in the alley, the girls slide by,

pointing to their ears. At eight, the bakery door is shut in soldier Ivanoff’s face,

though he’s their best customer. At ten, Momma Galya chalks NO ONE HEARS YOU on

the gates of the soldiers’ barracks.
    By eleven a.m., arrests begin.
    Our hearing doesn’t weaken, but something silent in us strengthens.

In the ears of the town, snow falls.


In a Time of Peace

Inhabitant of earth for forty something years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open



their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for

         his wallet, the cop
shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.


It is a peaceful country.



We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to pick up the children from school,

to buy shampoo,
and basil.


Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the pavement
for hours.


We see in his open mouth
the nakedness
of the whole nation.


We watch. Watch
others watch.


The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a




It is a peaceful country.


And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.


All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little



This is a time of peace.


I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs. How

         bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

We Lived Happily During the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we



but not enough, we opposed them but not


enough. I was

in my bed, around my bed America


was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—


I took a chair outside and watched the sun.


In the sixth month

of a disastrous reign in the house of money


in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)


lived happily during the war.

-from Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019) selected by Spring 2021 Guest Editor Cyrus Cassells. 

Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former Soviet Union in 1977, and arrived to the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government.

He is the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press) and Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press) and co-editor and co-translated many other books, including Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins) and Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (Alice James Books).

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