personal, poetry, quarantine stories

A poem of protest: “We Lived Happily During the War” by Ilya Kaminsky

The world is no longer just chaotic. It is Chaos, personified.

I don’t know about you, but my heart has been broken so much that I wonder if there is anything left to break. Every day, I hear stories of people suffering and dying. In my country, some people even have to choose between death by COVID-19 or death by starving.

In these dark times, as I often do, I turn to poetry. Ilya Kaminsky’s “We Lived Happily During the War” speaks volumes about this situation.

Kaminsky first caught my attention on Twitter. I’ve been following him and his work for a while now, and there is one poem that has been etched in my memory (which is not to say that any of his other poems are less powerful).

This poem perfectly captures the helplessness and guilt of being silent in the face of oppression.

You can read it in full right here.

We Lived Happily During the War - Ilya Kaminsky | Pretty words ...

What I love most about this is that Kaminsky does not absolve the persona, despite his/her (rather spineless) expression of remorse.

The persona, and many others who had been living in safety, spoke out but not enough. And here, it is clear that this lukewarm condemnation is the reason why the “invisible” houses fall one after the other.

Money —and the comfort that comes with it—is, after all, hard to give up.

The big question is, “At what expense?”

Money can save us a hundred times. But it runs out sooner or later.

Our silence may save us once, or twice. But it will not save us forever.

Now more than ever we should remember that all we really have is each other.

In the US, there have been months of unrest sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd. Recently, healthcare workers from France, Korea, and the Philippines have been protesting against inhumane working conditions worsened by the lack of government support in the midst of the pandemic.

(Here, I’d like to point out that while others are quick to judge rallyists for putting themselves and others at risk, studies have shown that parties and not protests are to blame for the spike in COVID infections.)

While I don’t have the right nor the power to command anyone to go out on the streets, I hope we all use our voices to amplify those who are crying for justice.

Only then will we survive the wars that are upon us today.

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