Ilya Kaminsky’s second poetry collection, Deaf Republic, is an exhilarating and anguished poetic narrative. Sixty poems tell the story of an unspecified event wherein, “SOLDIERS—arrive in Vasenka to ‘protect our freedom,’ speaking a language no one understands.” The chilling poems that begin and end the collection suggest an acceptance of the preposterous—an all too familiar, yet distressing reality in today’s Unites States of America.
I turned to the breath-steamed window, parting a pane with my ungloved hand. There among the ornamental maples of the cemetery, I could just make out the wise men: bulb-lit, clustered, faces in prayerful repose. They appeared the day after Thanksgiving and stood through late January, long after we’d packed the plastic mistletoe in tissue, dragged molting trees to the curb. I never found out where the extension cords led.
A quiet to these fields we called our place, / could almost hear the springs refeeding ponds, / fracked and gone with the deer and fox and grouse / thanks to the drilling’s thunder in the ground.
The river changed course / By three feet. / Thus the willow withers from thirst. / Thus the rock is set alone like an altar. / Thus the grassy hill browns.
The summer of 2013 / Was seen through rose tinted sunglasses / We gathered at Christa’s house, / Solemnly toasting to “the last year”
How many little lives in between my fingernails, how many layers / of sod, of seed? This cold grass is all corpse and it’s only six o’clock /
in the evening. At the group home, I’ll spoon green beans and strained peaches / into my grandfather’s mouth, push them back onto his plate when he shoves
Seventh inning, score tied, and Shaw leans back in his favorite chair and begins another beer. I’ve already had my usual three and have turned down his offer of a fourth. Since I got here he hasn’t said a word about anything but the ballgame, one we’ve been looking forward to against our division rivals. He doesn’t look at me when he comments on the game and doesn’t seem to care if I reply.
I’m the strut of starlight / in the open tabernacle— / I’m the songs of leopard frogs / in the dew-spackled grass.
That absence filled with water, and we swam: / kept to the surface, above rusted beams / and weeds and car or body parts, above / sequins of glass, or rutted signs, or cans / crushed to bright coins, or hypodermics.
I remember when you found your mother, said your uncle. / You close your eyes, / smell chlorine. See the backyard’s cedars, / bougainvillea shadow her swollen body.
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