I once found myself in a peaceful country

For this last day of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem by one of my favorite poets, Ilya Kaminsky (1977-), from one of my favorite new collections of the year. Seek out a copy of this devastatingly piercing and tender masterpiece–you will not be disappointed.


“In a Time of Peace”

Inhabitant of earth for fortysomething 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 kids 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 boy–

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 salt.

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.

around my bed America was falling

A necessary kick in the stomach from one of my longtime favorites, Ilya Kaminsky (1977-).

“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.

I know your grain by heart

Dark Elderberry Branch has traveled from my bedside to my purse to my kitchen table since I purchased it several months ago. I’m so glad Jean Valentine and Ilya Kaminsky  (who are both wonderful poets in their own right) chose to translate the work of this incredible Russian writer, Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941). I posted another part of this particular poem last year, so if you like this selection, journey backwards….

from “The Desk (1)”

Thirty years together–
clearer than love.
I know your grain by heart,
you know my lines.

Wasn’t it you who wrote them on my face?
You ate paper, you taught me:
There’s no tomorrow. You taught me:
Today, today.

Money, bills, love letters, money, bills,
you stood in a blizzard of oak.
Kept saying: For every word you want
today, today.

God, you kept saying,
doesn’t accept bits and bills.
Nuh, when they lay my body out, my fool, my
desk, let it be on you.