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from DEAF REPUBLIC (poem) - Ilya Kaminsky - USA - Poetry International
 
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from Deaf Republic
1.

Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air,
a story sung by those who danced before the Lord in quiet.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise
with no protection but each other’s ears.
We are on our bellies in this silence, Lord.

Let us wash our faces in the wind and forget the strict shapes of affection.
Let the pregnant woman hold something of clay in her hand.
For the secret of patience is his wife’s patience
Let her man kneel on the roof, clearing his throat,
he who loved roofs, tonight and tonight, making love to her and her forgetting,
a man with a fast heartbeat, a woman dancing with a broom, uneven breath.
Let them borrow the light from the blind.
Let them kiss your forehead, approached from every angle.
What is silence? Something of the sky in us.
There will be evidence, there will be evidence.
Let them speak of air and its necessities. Whatever they will open, will open.


2. 9AM Bombardment

Running down Vasenka street my clothes in a pillowcase
I was looking for a man who looks exactly like me
so I could give him my Sonya, my name, my clothes.
Running down Vasenka street with my lips moving,
one of those who run from the trolley that bursts like an intestine in the sun,
those who lock the door, lock it with the second key,
and who try to speak, stutter but try to speak.
A wife screams as if she were in labor & she was in labor.

Running by windows where women bought lemon and fish and garlic,
to the right madame Gornik painted icons sold at morning,
to the left lived Veronina, mother of two boys
who stole tomato sandwiches from her boys.
We stuttered and drank and laughed like barefoot peasants
and also drank quietly, damning only the earth and quietly
we made vodka from cherries, vodka from wooden chairs.

It has begun: they climb the trolleys
at the thief market, breaking
all their moments in half. And the army officers
in the clanging trolleys shoot at our neighbors’ faces
and in their ears. And the army officer says: Boys! Girls!
take your partner two steps. Shoot.

It has begun: I saw how the blue canary of my country
picks breadcrumbs from each soldier’s hair
picks breadcrumbs from each soldier’s eyes.
Rain leaves the earth and falls straight up as it should.
To have a country, so important,
to run into walls, into streetlights, into loved ones, as one should.
Watch their legs as they run and fall.
I have seen the blue canary of my country
watch their legs as they run and fall.

 
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.
 
Don’t forget this. There sat in the poplar two brothers, the barber and podiatrist, in love with the same woman. They drank there and recited each poem they knew. Not a soul noticed: notasoul.

 
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.

“Speak not only of great devastation”
so said my brother, who could not write or read

but spent his days covered in other people’s hair.

 
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
           of white wine.
He eats raw egg broken into a cup.
And he smells a trickle of lemons in the snow
And he tosses that egg down his throat like a shot of tequila
He is washing his hands, he is putting his tongue where his tooth has been
And our girls spit in the policeman’s nostrils
It is the spittle of our people freezing in the avenues.
The policeman is handsome, he was playing volleyball when the boys caught him.
And a pigeon settles on a stop sign, making it sway.
For our boys sign: start.
Our girls, wet and freckled, cross themselves.
The bald man talks with his fingers to the wall.
His eyes are wet with sweat in the rain.
He jumps on the boy and hugging him stabs him in
           the lung.
The policeman flies above the sidewalk.
The bald man stabs in the air, shovels in the crowd a hole with arms
           and legs.
In the deaf ear there is no such sound as the squeal of a hole. He kisses
the hundred-fifty-pound body of his classmate.
It is the girls who take the earth
And put it in their shirts.

 
6.
 
Through Vasenka: a herd of boys runs. With their icy hands they haul a policeman and for an apple a look they display the man on the asphalt. Snow falls in his nostrils. I watch him. They circle his eyes with a red pencil. They teach his neighbors to spit in two red holes. I watch the snowflakes melt in their hair. The neighbor aims in the red circle, spits. I stand on a park bench and chew snow. Boys walk west of Tedna, carrying snowflakes in their hair. A neighbor aims in the hole, spits. Walking by night with their arms lifted up from their bodies. As if they were about to leave the earth. And were trying out the wind.

 
7. Sonya Considers Happiness

Dr. Alfonso Barabinsky wants
to go outside
I hold him down with my smaller body.
He walks, runs from his shoes to my kitchen.
He is drinking in my kitchen,
He swims in my kitchen with his varicose fat legs.
Alfonso, you fool. You
think it is brave to drink
vodka all morning on an empty stomach.
The walls of our apartment flash.
The walls of our apartment
stand. They are bombing his hospital.
He washes my face.
He fingerspells the names of patients.
The shadow of his fingers huge on the whitewashed wall.
The walls of our apartment flash.
When the bombs fall
we make children.

He kneels and kisses
through my skin
the shape of our only child.
They are bombing his office.
Takes his glasses off and lays them on the table like a shining weapon.
Throws his t-shirt
at our cat, fat hangs over his belt.
Pulls a stolen lemon
out his pocket.
They are bombing his hospital office,
But I am a ripe woman
a man could be happy.

 
8.

I look at you, Alfonso
and say

to the late
caterpillars

good morning, Senators!
this is a battle

worthy
of our weapons.

 
9.

I am not a poet, Sonya I inspect
the fragrant feet of younger ladies—


While deafness hums as a little motor
I watch her stand in the shower

holding her breasts
in her hands like two small explosions.

I am her boy drowning.
In this country he does not know

the word for “drowning” and yells:
“I am diving for the last time!”

 
10.

I kissed a woman
whose freckles
aroused our neighbors.

Her trembling lips
meant come to bed.
Her hair falling down in the middle

of the conversation
meant come to bed.
I walked in my hospital of thoughts.

Yes, I carried her off to bed
on the chair of my
hairy arms. But parted lips

meant kiss my parted lips,
I read those lips
without understanding

soft lips meant
kiss my soft lips.
Such is a silence

of a woman who
speaks against silence, knowing
silence is what

moves us to speak.

 
11.
 
 
It is December 8 and my brother Tony was killed by the soldiers. December 8 and the police are reopening the Southern Trolleyways. December 8 when my wife lifts Tony’s body from the ground, his arm tied over her shoulder—her face is damp, her hair dirty. And the soldiers unveil the damn Trolleyways, and I stand feeling (a quick march of bumps across my back and thighs) nothing.
 
 
When she comes home, I run a bath for Sonya and wash her hair, gently mixing the finest of my brother’s shampoos with quiet precision, while Sonya cries and cries.

 
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

this skinny sparrow, this barber no simple soul, takes me
with his fingers by my nose and kisses me, quickly, on the lips!

When Tony washed my hair, when Alfonso
kissed between my toes, when my lips

trembled, when the fourth one laughed, when Tony slept, slept in the earth,
on the empty streets of our district, a bit of wind

called for the life which no one knew, a life
which daily took all of us: my neighbor

taken, his wife taken, their apartment quiet.
I say this slowly, as if unaffected:

their apartment quiet, on the floor, dirty water from their boots.

 
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

(I do not speak, you do not speak, we
do not speak, we do not speak, we do not)

waltzing away from himself
on Vasenka’s warm bricks—

he blessed us with his loneliness, a light winged being.
“Your legs stick out of your trousers too much!”

—Tony, yell at me. I need propping up
in this hairy leg business. A man on earth escapes and runs and yells and stands in silence—silence

which is a soul’s noise.
At the funeral I, embarrassed by resistance fighters

standing up to shake my hand, said
I wear your trousers, in the right hand pocket, a hole.

I wrap your hearing aids in this white t-shirt—
with brief gifts

you go my eye-green brother.
And I, a fool, live.







 
_________________
Six words,
Lord:

please ease
of song

my tongue.

 
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

there, and not being, lost and found
and lost again: Thank you for the feather on my tongue,

thank you for our argument that ends,
thank you for my deafness, Lord, such fire

from a match you never lit.

 
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.

 
16.

Yet I am. I exists. I has
a body,
When I see

my wife’s slender boyish legs
the roof
of my mouth goes dry.

She takes my toe
in her mouth.
Bites lightly.

How do we live on earth, Mosquito?
If I could hear

you what would you say?
Your answer, Mosquito!

Above all, beware
of sadness

on earth we can do
—can’t we?—

what we want.

 
Poet's Note: This sequence is from the unfinished manuscript Deaf Republic. This story of a pregnant woman and her husband living during an epidemic of deafness and civil unrest was found beneath the floorboards in a house in Eastern Europe. Several versions of the manuscript exist.—IK