Ilya Kaminsky: a poem



That Map of Bone and Opened Valves


I watched a sergeant aim, the deaf boy take iron and fire in his mouth –

his face on the asphalt,

that map of bone and opened valves.

It's the air. Something in the air wants us too much.

The earth is still.

The tower guards eat cucumber sandwiches.

This first day

soldiers examine the ears of bartenders, accountants, soldiers –

the wicked things silence does to soldiers.

They tear Gena's wife from her bed like a door off a bus

– observe this moment

how it convulses –

The body of a boy lies on the asphalt like the body of a boy. The sergeant screeches in

        the language of sergeants.

On the fourth day

I touch the walls, feel the pulse of the house and I

stare up wordless and do not know why I am alive.

We tiptoe this city

my wife and I

between theaters and gardens and wrought iron gates –

Be courageous, I say, but no one

is courageous, as a sound we do not hear

lifts the birds off the water.



Born on April 18 1977, Ilya Kaminsky was raised in Odessa, Ukraine, the former Soviet Union. At the age of four, he lost most of his hearing after a misdiagnosis. Kaminsky is the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), winner of the Anisfield-Wolf and LA Times Book Awards; Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), which received multiple awards including the Dorset Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Metcalf Award; and Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002).


Poem reproduced with the kind permission of Ilya Kaminsky and Graywolf Press.