Ilya Kaminsky and John James

Posted in 2019-2020 Readings and Talks

Ilya Kaminsky headshot and John James headshot

September 24, 2019

Seminar 4:30 PM | Lannan Center (New North 408)
Reading 7:00 PM | Bioethics Research Library (Healy Hall 102)

In a Time of Peace

—Ilya Kaminsky

Inhabitant of earth for fortysomething years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open

their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for
his wallet, the cop shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.

It is a peaceful country.

We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to pick up the kids from school,
to buy shampoo
and basil.

Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the
pavement for hours.

We see in his open mouth
the nakedness
of the whole nation.

We watch. Watch
others watch.

The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a

It is a peaceful country.

And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.

All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little

This is a time of peace.

I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the back yards of the suburbs. How
bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

From Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019)
Read more about Ilya Kaminsky

The Milk Hours

—John James
for J.E.J., 1962-1993
and C.S.M.J., 2013-

We lived overlooking the walls overlooking the cemetery. 
The cemetery is where my father remains. We walked 
in the garden for what seemed like an hour but in reality must 
have been days. Cattail, heartseed—these words mean nothing to me.
The room opens up into white and more white, sun outside 
between steeples. I remember, now, the milk hours, leaning
over my daughter’s crib, dropping her ten, twelve pounds 
into the limp arms of her mother. The suckling sound as I crashed 
into sleep. My daughter, my father—his son. The wet grass 
dew-speckled above him. His face grows vague and then vaguer.
From our porch I watch snow fall on bare firs. Why does it 
matter now—what gun, what type. Bluesmoke rises. The chopped
copses glisten. Snowmelt smoothes the stone cuts of his name.    

From The Milk Hours (Milkweed Editions, 2019)
This poem first appeared in The Louisville Review.
Read more about John James

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