by Konstantin Kulakov



Tula, Russia

Exiting the hospital tower, turning from
the terror of bloodwork and shots, we whisk home

the sled with supple milk bags marked
МОЛОКО through the slush, a sheet of

deadly snow—kicked adrift by wind. Moving
beside me, there are worlds mother, womb-

like, a Marian-blue light, circling-out
from the grocery:

The oscillating memory, Your Presence Lord.



It was never sense, but the
Singing of light. At six, I abandoned
the fraught letters of scrabble strewn
before our family of four

to color the ambulances smudged
blue and green through a window in rain:
a poet dizzied by the bilingual
burdened by the weight of sprouting





And my father, Oxford-educated, returning
with us to Russia, not a penny but

indebtedness writ to his leg. This was a
long-winter, brutalized homeland, tipping over

from KGB & Socialism to The New Oligarchs
& Oprichniksi: But in my village of birth,

there were mud roads blanketed
in snow. Hot baths in the quiet and

the oratory of courage, filling the churches:

a grandfather smuggling scriptures
into his prison cell, and a father, setting

plays at a base in Vladivostok, waking
with money hidden in his chest.

“He is holy,” they said.



New York

To inherit the opulence, the progress of
empire is to inherit the weight of the

the underbelly, richly textured:
the toil, the toil, the toil of black and brown

bodies exploited, abandoned, pressed against walls, jailed, killed,
invisibilized—but resisting with raised fist. Here, to be born

is to find a foot, shifting, in the geography of color
and class: othered by immigrant Russianness,

privileged by male whiteness, where bullets
are not new to graze her Brooklyn projects and where,

reaching your voicemail, I call your trendy uptown office, and you
call back: “dear wolf, they aren’t shocked that you called,

but by the weekly fact of gunshots.”


Now, stretched by digital
distances, disfigured by

Time’s compromise, I walk
course Manhattan Island,

haunted by flashes of
fatherhood in decay, thirsty

for power and fame. At home,
I light a tree and inhale, my hand

pressed to the heat of your thigh.


“And they, for a moment, felt
The truth.
And for that moment came
Into the world, & like most
Of the rest of us
In the world.

They were actually, crying.”

—“Oklahoma Enters the Third World,”
Amiri Baraka


is the continuity, what word,
what image will string the Marian-blue

songs of innocence to Baraka’s
“money-dick slavery” of experience,

the thrownness into the world: a torn-heart
pain to be carried
into the night…

“…the secret silence,
outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their darkness.”
—Dionysius the Areopagite

But when the truth emerges, roughened, a
flickering icon, a gold-peeling talisman

carried gracefully into the battlefield of
the everyday, it will not be what is locked

into lone words, but it will be the dark-light, li-ark, emanating,
reflecting between faces, the iris

meeting the iris. And there, at the site of pain, I will lift it all
to You, Lord:


this is to the Soviets who violated my kin
and the Marxism that graces my way, this is to
the capitalists who exploit our poor,

and the religious liberty, the American free speech
that grants my family home, I lift it all:

the Image of God, roughened,
but irrevocable in us,

the Marian-blue light, circling-out,
and in the light,

the darkness.


Konstantin Kulakov is an award-winning Russian-American poet born in Zaoksky, Soviet Russia in 1989. He is the recipient of the Greg Grummer Poetry Award, judged by Brian Teare. Kulakov’s debut collection of poems, Excavating the Sky, was published by Dialogue Foundation Books on December 4, 2015, and lauded by Kirkus, Cornel West, and David Rosenberg. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Phoebe, Tule Review, The Christian Century, Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, and Tidal Basin Review. Select poems have been translated into Russian, including a forthcoming translation into German. He lives in New York.

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