Ilya Kaminsky


from Deaf Republic: 12. Sonya Speaks Slowly, As If Unaffected

I remember Tony arguing in front of his mirrors, the soldiers
were painting the trees, Tony sat

on the floor of white hair, and all the trees were
painted white. And he spat at Alfonso’ s irony, but when

they played accordion, the fourth among us had no name.
“I am not sleeping with Tony! He simply cuts my hair!”

— but our dinner is a tiny blue fish and, with my lean brother-in-law,
we are playing cards. I pull spade after spade after spade but

from Deaf Republic: 13. For My Brother, Tony

Love cities, this is what my brother taught me
as he cut soldiers’ hair, then tidied tomatoes
watching Sonya and I dance on a soapy floor —
I open the window, say in a low voice, my brother.
The voice I do not hear when I speak to myself is the clearest voice.
But the sky was all around us once.
We played chess with empty matchboxes,
he wrote love letters to my wife
and ran outside and ran back, yelling to her, “You! Mail has arrived!”
Brother of a waltzing husband, barber of a waltzing wife

from Deaf Republic: 14

Each man has a quiet that revolves
around him as he beats his head against the earth. But I am laughing

hard and furious. I pour a glass of pepper vodka
and toast the gray wall. I say we were

never silent. We read each other’ s lips and said
one word four times. And laughed four times

in loving repetition. We read each other’ s lips to uncover
the poverty of laughter. Touch the asphalt with fingers to hear the cool earth of Vasenka

Deposit ears into the raindrops on a fisherman’ s tobacco hair.
And whoever listens to me: being

from Deaf Republic: 15

Motionless forgetful music of women and men
touching each forehead, breathing a soul into each immeasurable other,
on earth where we are, stranger, through madness unattainable
or grace, in difficult traffic reaching for each immeasurable other:

no one on earth (O bitterness, O desire, — who commands the ships? —
or, who — ) touching the Lord’ s shoulder, and breathing a soul, has measured

this motionless forgetful music of women and men. Thus
I (behind the eye what sleeps?) must from the blind borrow this light.

from Deaf Republic: 3

Don’ t forget this: Men who live in this time remember the price of each bottle of vodka. Sunlight on the canal outside the train-station. With the neighbor’ s ladder, my brother Tony “Mosquito” and I climb the poplar in the public garden with one and a half bottles of vodka and we drink there all night. Sunlight on a young girl’ s face, asleep on the church steps. Tony recites poems, forgets I cannot hear. I watch the sunlight in the rearview mirror of trolleys as they pass.

from Deaf Republic: 4

“You must speak not only of great devastation
but of women kissing in the yellow grass!”

I heard this not from a great philosopher
but from my brother Tony

who could do four haircuts in thirteen minutes,
his eyes closed, reciting our National Anthem to the mirror.

“You must drink cucumber vodka and naked sing all night
Unite women and boys of the Earth!”

He played the accordion out of tune in a country
where the only musical instrument is the door.

from Deaf Republic: 5. And They Drag The Living Body In The Sunlit Piazza

I watch loud animal bones in their faces & I can smell the earth.
Our boys want a public killing in a sunlit piazza
They drag a young policeman, a sign in his arms swaying
“I arrested the girls of Vasenka”
For the boys have no idea how to kill a man.
The bald man in a barbershop whispers, I will kill him for
a box of oranges.
On a lucid morning they pay a box of oranges.
The bald man arrives with white towels and a soap and a bottle