Ilya Kaminsky







We Lived Happily During the War


And when they bombed other people’s houses, we



but not enough, we opposed them but not


enough. I was

in my bed, around my bed America


was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.


I took a chair outside and watched the sun.


In the sixth month

of a disastrous reign in the house of money


in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)


lived happily during the war.




National Anthem


“You must speak not only of great devastation

but of women kissing in the yellow grass!”


I heard that not from a great philosopher

but from my husband, Alfonso


who could scissor-clip four skulls in thirteen minutes,

his eyes closed, reciting our National Anthem in the mirror.


“You must drink cucumber vodka and sing all night

Unite women and boys of Earth!”


He played the accordion out of tune in a country

where the only musical instrument is the door.


“You must speak not only of great devastation,”

said my barber who could not write or read


but spent his days covered in other people’s hair.




Wherein Sonya and Alfonso Drink in the Shower


I scrub and lather him like a salmon

until he spits

soapy water. “Pig” I smile—


“Alfonso you smell better than this 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 the bath-tub,

drink dirty water.

Soaping together—that


is sacred to me. Washing feet together.

You can fuck

anyone – but with whom can you sit in water?


I knew I had caught the boy

and he knew he had been caught.

He sings as I dry his chest & penis


“Sonya, I was a glad man with you—”




Mother Throws Milk Bottles at Soldiers


Fat Momma in a small town, queen of bullshit!

whiskey keeps her conscience clean.

On a yellow bicycle

she aims milk bottles at security checkpoints


As her bicycle hits

The soldiers’ ranks she flies

over the country like a tardy postman.


Yes, a woman who stands up

for her country

whispers: fuck soldiers, citizens, fuck them ugly and fuck them stunning.


Momma Galya Armolinskaya, 63, is having more sex than you and I

When she walks across her balcony


And the soldier “Oh” stands up

and another stands,

and the whole battalion–


We try not to look at her breasts

but they are everywhere

nipples like bullets.


Galya Armolinskaya you are the luckiest Momma in the nation!

your iron bicycle

tears with bright whiskey courage

through an advancing rank of soldiers into daylight. You pedal barefoot

wearing just shorts.


And let the law go whistle.














Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former Soviet Union in 1977, and arrived to the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government.

Ilya is the author of Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004) which won the Whiting Writer’s Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the Dorset Prize, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship given annually by Poetry magazine.Dancing In Odessa was also named Best Poetry Book of the Year 2004 by ForeWord Magazine. In 2008, Kaminsky was awarded Lannan Foundation’s Literary Fellowship

Poems from his new manuscript,Deaf Republic, were awardedPoetry magazine’s Levinson Prize and the Pushcart Prize.

His anthology of 20th century poetry in translation, Ecco Anthology of International Poetry,  was published by Harper Collins in March, 2010.

His poems have been translated into numerous languages and his books have been published in Holland, Russia, France, Spain. Another translation is forthcoming in China, where his poetry was awarded the Yinchuan International Poetry Prize.

Kaminsky has worked as a law clerk for San Francisco Legal Aid and the National Immigration Law Center.

Currently, he teaches English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.

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