We must speak not only of great devastation

illustration of a brown door with an accordion coming out of the peep hole, shining light. A paper hat made of newspaper below.
Art by Kristina Closs

Eulogy

By Ilya Kaminsky (1977-)

You must speak not only of great devastation—

we heard that not from a philosopher
but from our neighbor, Alfonso—

his eyes closed, he climbed other people’s porches and recited
to his child our National Anthem:

You must speak not only of great devastation—
when his child cried, he

made her a newspaper hat and squeezed his silence
like two pleats of an accordion:

We must speak not only of great devastation—
and he played that accordion out of tune in a country

where the only musical instrument is the door.

from Deaf Republic

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around my bed America was falling

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

ilya-kaminsky
“We Lived Happily During the War”

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
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.

The sun began a routine narration

The title poem from Ilya Kaminsky’s first book, Dancing in Odessa, which you should track down and read in its entirety right now. Incredible. Some more poems can be found here.

“Dancing In Odessa”

We lived north of the future, days opened
letters with a child’s signature, a raspberry, a page of sky.
My grandmother threw tomatoes
from her balcony, she pulled imagination like a blanket
over my head. I painted
my mother’s face. She understood
loneliness, hid the dead in the earth like partisans.

The night undressed us (I counted
its pulse) my mother danced, she filled the past
with peaches, casseroles. At this, my doctor laughed, his granddaughter
touched my eyelid—I kissed
the back of her knee. The city trembled,
a ghost-ship setting sail.
And my classmate invented twenty names for Jew.
He was an angel, he had no name,
we wrestled, yes. My grandfathers fought

the German tanks on tractors, I kept a suitcase full
of Brodsky’s poems. The city trembled,
a ghost-ship setting sail.
At night, I woke to whisper: yes, we lived.

We lived, yes, don’t say it was a dream.
At the local factory, my father
took a handful of snow, put it in my mouth.
The sun began a routine narration,
whitening their bodies: mother, father dancing, moving
as the darkness spoke behind them.
It was April. The sun washed the balconies, April.

I retell the story the light etches
into my hand: Little book, go to the city without me.