Skip to Content

That Map of Bone and Opened Valves

By Ilya Kaminsky

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.

Added: Thursday, December 21, 2017  /  Used with permission.
Ilya Kaminsky
Photograph by Cybele Knowles.

Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1977 and came to the United States in 1993 when his family was granted asylum. He is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press) and Deaf Republic (forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2019). He is also the co-editor of The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins) and co-translator of Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, among several other books and anthologies. His work had been recognized with American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, Whiting Writers Award, Lannan Foundation Fellowship, Yinchuan International Prize for Poetry (China), and several other honors. In addition to his writing, he is the professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State. He has worked as a law clerk at several non-profits including National Immigration Law Center and Bay Area Legal, and most recently as a court appointed special advocate for orphaned children in San Diego.

Ilya Kaminsky was a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018. Visit the festival information page for more information.

Other poems by this author