“In Praise of Laughter” by Ilya Kaminsky

Ilya Kaminsky


Where days bend and straighten
in a city that belongs to no nation
but all the nations of wind,

she spoke the speech of poplar trees—
her ears trembling as she spoke, my Aunt Rose
composed odes to barbershops, drugstores.

Her soul walking on two feet, the soul or no soul, a child’s allowance,
she loved street musicians and knew
that my grandfather composed lectures on the supply

and demand of clouds in our country:
the State declared him an enemy of the people.
He ran after a train with tomatoes in his coat

and danced naked on the table in front of our house—
he was shot, and my grandmother raped
by the public prosecutor, who stuck his pen in her vagina,

the pen which signed people off for twenty years.
But in the secret history of anger—one man’s silence
lives in the bodies of others—as we dance to keep from falling,

between the doctor and the prosecutor:
my family, the people of Odessa,
women with huge breasts, old men naive and childlike,

all our words, heaps of burning feathers
that rise and rise with each retelling.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets


Ilya Kaminsky: “In a city ruled jointly by doves and crows, doves covered the main district, and crows the market. A deaf boy counted how many birds there were in his neighbor’s backyard, producing a four-digit number. He dialed the number and confessed his love to the voice on the line. My secret: at the age of four I became deaf. When I lost my hearing, I began to see voices. On a crowded trolley, a one-armed man said that my life would be mysteriously linked to the history of my country. Yet my country cannot be found, its citizens meet in a dream to conduct elections. He did not describe their faces, only a few names: Roland, Aladdin, Sinbad.” (web)

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