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August 2003  |  Jacket 23  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |

Katia Kapovich

Three poems

A Komsomol Act

He was the Komsomol Leader of our class,
and I a troubled girl.
He once paid me a visit when I was home sick
and sat down on my narrow couch.

He said that I should read Lenin's works
and brush up my physics and math.
I told him to shut up and kissed his mouth
and smelled his chewing gum breath.

His embrace tightened on my shoulder blades,
his Komsomol badge pricked my neck.
I remember the ceiling growing darker above us,
and darker, and darker, and dark.

To the sounds of winter, trolleybus tinkles,
feet trotting across snow,
Lenin smiled shrewdly and closed his eyes
between our slippers on the floor.

They Called Them ‘Blue’

They called them ‘blue’ and mentioned them in whispers,
as if they represented a sinister cult.

This couple lived in a bohemian slum,
where most Moldovan gays rented cheap rooms.
I had never been there
until a schoolmate from that neighborhood
took me to check them out. Putting out our cigarettes,
we climbed the stairs to the top floor.

A gray haired man opened the door,
looking like a monk in a monumental bathrobe.
He made us Turkish coffee and scratched his tonsure:
‘Where shall I put this?’ I realized
that their place had no furniture except for a bookcase.

Sergey and was a book binder and restorer of rare books
at a local history archive. He had learned his trade in jail,
doing time for homosexuality. Books were all he had.
The room's large square window offered
a majestic view of Kishinev slums. In the kitchen,
a tape recorder played non-stop, a guitar and a violin
vying with each other. Czech jazz, he explained,
anticipating my question.

Then his friend arrived, a young underground artist
with an enormous watermelon in his arms.
‘I stood in a line for a damn hour,’
he cursed, ‘This thing had better be ripe,
or I'll drop it out the window!’

The watermelon soon revealed its green interiors.
We ate it with spoons, listening to the music,
which I liked. I still remember the watery taste,
the many seeds that were left when the rest was gone.


A dry northern wind at Christmas
brings clouds of seagulls to Cambridge,
landing them at 10 A.M.
upon Harvard's stadium.
I am dishonest,
I steal my way in to run here
once in a while without authorization,
but right now I'm just passing by.

Tall bleachers to my right
across the hollow amphitheater of winter
seem ready to surrender
to snow, but there is none.

A man in a greasy Santa uniform
ambles from the direction of Mt. Auburn Cemetery
with an empty cigar box in his hands.
He sets it down on the curbstone.
‘Free. Take anything you need,’
reads the handwritten inscription
in fat purple highlighter.

Photo of Katia Kapovitch

Katia Kapovichis a bilingual poet writing in English and Russian. She is the author of four collections of Russian poetry. Her English-language poems have most recently appeared in the London Review of Books, Ploughshares, The American Scholar, The Antioch Review, Harvard Review, and many other journals, and have been anthologized in Poetry 180 (Random House, 2003). In 2001 Kapovich received the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress. She lives in Cambridge, MA, with her husband Philip Nikolayev and their four year old daughter Sophia, and co-edits Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics.

Photo of Katia Kapovich by Eugene Gorokhovsky

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