“from Deaf Republic: 14”

Each man has a quiet that revolves
around him as he beats his head against the earth. But I am laughing

hard and furious. I pour a glass of pepper vodka
and toast the gray wall. I say we were

never silent. We read each other’s lips and said
one word four times. And laughed four times

in loving repetition. We read each other’s lips to uncover
the poverty of laughter. Touch the asphalt with fingers to hear the cool earth of Vasenka

Deposit ears into the raindrops on a fisherman’s tobacco hair.
And whoever listens to me: being

there, and not being, lost and found
and lost again: Thank you for the feather on my tongue,

thank you for our argument that ends,
thank you for my deafness, Lord, such fire

from a match you never lit.

– Ilya Kaminsky

Notes:
These poems are from the unfinished manuscript Deaf Republic. This story of a pregnant woman and her husband living during an epidemic of deafness and civil unrest was found beneath the floorboards in a house in Eastern Europe. Several versions of the manuscript exist.—IK

 

 

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“A Gift”

Who is that creature
and who does he want?
Me, I trust. I do not
attempt to call out his
name for fear he will
tread on me. What do
you believe, he asks.

That we all want to be
alone, I reply, except when
we do not; that the world
was open to my sorrow
and ate most of it; that
today is a gift and I am
ready to receive you.

– Kathryn Starbuck

“Trout”

I do my best
to keep pointlessness
at bay. But here,
wet above my
knees, I let it fly.
Here, hot and cold,
fingers thick with
thinking, I try to
tie the fly and look
for the net, loosening
the philosophical
knot of why I came
here today, not yet
knowing whether
I’ll free or fry
the rainbows
and browns once
they’re mine.

– Kathryn Starbuck

“Ideas”

I was the lonely one in whom
they swarmed in the millions.
I was their creature and I
was grateful. I could sleep
when I wanted.

I lived a divided
existence in sleepdreams
that lit up a silence as dreadful
as that of the moon. I have
an overly-precise recall of

those solitary years before
I opened the curtain and drew
upon a universe of want that made
me so strong I could crack
spines of books with one hand.

– Kathryn Starbuck

“Those Winter Sundays”

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

– Robert Hayden

An Exercise in Love

for Jackson Allen

My friend wears my scarf at his waist
I give him moonstones
He gives me shell & seaweeds
He comes from a distant city & I meet him
We will plant eggplants & celery together
He weaves me cloth

Many have brought the gifts
I use for his pleasure
silk, & green hills
& heron the color of dawn

My friend walks soft as a weaving on the wind
He backlights my dreams
He has built altars beside my bed
I awake in the smell of his hair & cannot remember
his name, or my own.

– Diane di Prima