Gunshot

Ilya Kaminsky - 1977-

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!
           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!
           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.

More by Ilya Kaminsky

After Bombardment, Sonya

I scrub and lather him like a salmon
until he spits 
soapy water. "Pig" I smile—

This man smells better than his country
I throw his shoes 
and glasses in the air,

take off his t-shirt and socks, and kneel 
in honor of Sasha Petrov 
who was amputated, in honor of Lesha Vatkii the taken.

I dip a glass in a bath-tub,
drink dirty water.
Soaping together—that 

is sacred to me. Washing mouths together. 
You can fuck 
anyone—but with whom can you sit in water?

And the cuddling up
before sleep!—and back-scratching
in the morning. My back, not yours!

I knew I had caught the fish            
and he knew he had been caught. 
He sings as I dry his chest & penis

"Sonya, I was a glad man with you—"

A Toast

To your voice, a mysterious virtue, 
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,  

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,  
to hyacinth and bluebell lily,  

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, 
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.  

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens,  
until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself   

and yet I loved—and what I loved  
I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels,  

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.” 

Town Watches Them Take Alfonso

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.