Ilya Kaminsky

In Praise of Laughter

Where days bend and straighten
in a city that belongs to no nation
but all the nations of wind,
she spoke the speech of poplar trees—
her ears trembling as she spoke, my Aunt Rose
composed odes to barbershops, drugstores.
Her soul walking on two feet, the soul or no soul, a child’s allowance,
she loved street musicians and knew
that my grandfather composed lectures on the supply
and demand of clouds in our country:
the State declared him an enemy of the people.
He ran after a train with tomatoes in his coat
and danced naked on the table in front of our house—
he was shot, and my grandmother raped
by the public prosecutor, who stuck his pen in her vagina,
the pen which signed people off for twenty years.
But in the secret history of anger—one man’s silence
lives in the bodies of others—as we dance to keep from falling,
between the doctor and the prosecutor:
my family, the people of Odessa,
women with huge breasts, old men naive and childlike,
all our words, heaps of burning feathers
that rise and rise with each retelling.

Ilya Kaminsky
In Praise of Laughter was published in Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004).
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission of the author