Ilya Kaminsky’s astonishing parable in poems asks us, What is silence?
Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hearthey all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signing by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea, Ilya Kaminsky’s long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.
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About the Author
Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union. He is the author of a poetry collection, Dancing in Odessa, and coeditor of The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. He was a 2014 finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Read an Excerpt
The Townspeople Tell the Story of Sonya and Alfonso
Our country is the stage.
When soldiers march into town, public assemblies are officially prohibited. But today, neighbors flock to the piano music from Sonya and Alfonso's puppet show in Central Square. Some of us have climbed up into trees, others hide behind benches and telegraph poles.
When Petya, the deaf boy in the front row, sneezes, the sergeant puppet collapses, shrieking. He stands up again, snorts, shakes his fist at the laughing audience. An army jeep swerves into the square, disgorging its own Sergeant.
Disperse immediately! the puppet mimics in a wooden falsetto.
Everyone freezes except Petya, who keeps giggling. Someone claps a hand over his mouth. The Sergeant turns toward the boy, raising his finger.
You! the puppet raises a finger.
Sonya watches her puppet, the puppet watches the Sergeant, the Sergeant watches Sonya and Alfonso, but the rest of us watch Petya lean back, gather all the spit in his throat, and launch it at the Sergeant.
The sound we do not hear lifts the gulls off the water.
As Soldiers March, Alfonso Covers the Boy's Face
with a Newspaper
Fourteen people, most of us strangers,
watch Sonya kneel by Petya
shot in the middle of the street.
She picks up his spectacles shining like two coins, balances them on his nose.
Observe this moment
— how it convulses —
Snow falls and the dogs run into the streets like medics.
Fourteen of us watch:
Sonya kisses his forehead — her shout a hole
torn in the sky, it shimmers the park benches, porchlights.
We see in Sonya's open mouth
of a whole nation.
She stretches out
beside the little snowman napping in the middle of the street.
As picking up its belly the country runs.
Alfonso, in Snow
You are alive, I whisper to myself, therefore something in you listens.
Something runs down the street, falls, fails to get up.
I run etcetera with my legs and my hands behind
my pregnant wife etcetera down Vasenka Street I run it
only takes a few minutes etcetera to make a man.
Excerpted from "Deaf Republic"
Copyright © 2019 Ilya Kaminsky.
Excerpted by permission of GRAYWOLF PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
We Lived Happily during the War 3
Deaf Republic 5
Dramatis Personae 7
Act 1 The Townspeople Tell the Story of Sonya and Alfonso Gunshot 11
As Soldiers March, Alfonso Covers the Boy's Face with a Newspaper 12
Alfonso, in Snow 13
Deafness, an Insurgency, Begins 14
Alfonso Stands Answerable 15
That Map of Bone and Opened Valves 16
The Townspeople Circle the Boy's Body 17
Of Weddings before the War 18
Still Newlyweds 19
Soldiers Aim at Us 20
Before the War, We Made a Child 23
As Soldiers Choke the Stairwell 24
4 a.m. Bombardment 25
While the Child Sleeps, Sonya Undresses 29
A Cigarette 30
A Dog Sniffs 31
What We Cannot Hear 32
Central Square 33
A Widower 34
For His Wife 35
I, This Body 36
Her Dresses 37
Above Blue Tin Roofs, Deafness 39
A City Like a Guillotine Shivers on Its Way to the Neck 40
In the Bright Sleeve of the Sky 41
To Live 42
The Townspeople Watch Them Take Alfonso 43
Such Is the Story Made of Stubbornness and a Little Air 47
Act 2 The Townspeople Tell the Story of Momma Galya
Townspeople Speak of Galya on Her Green Bicycle 51
When Momma Galya First Protested 52
A Bundle of Laundry 53
What Are Days 54
Galya Whispers, as Anushka Nuzzles 55
Galya's Puppeteers 56
In Bombardment, Galya 57
The Little Bundles 58
Galya's Toast 59
Theater Nights 60
And While Puppeteers Are Arrested 61
Soldiers Don't Like Looking Foolish 62
Search Patrols 63
Firing Squad 65
Yet, I Am 67
The Trial 68
Pursued by the Men of Vasenka 69
And Yet, on Some Nights 71
In a Time of Peace 75