Deaf Republic

Deaf Republic

by Ilya Kaminsky


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Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry

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 hear—they 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555978310
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 29,844
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.20(d)

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!

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

the nakedness
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"
by .
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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

Checkpoints 22

Before the War, We Made a Child 23

As Soldiers Choke the Stairwell 24

4 a.m. Bombardment 25

Arrival 26

Lullaby 27

Question 28

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

Elegy 38

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

Away 44

Eulogy 45

Question 46

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

Lullaby 64

Firing Squad 65

Question 66

Yet, I Am 67

The Trial 68

Pursued by the Men of Vasenka 69

Anonymous 70

And Yet, on Some Nights 71

In a Time of Peace 75

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