Cossacks and Bandits

I grew up in a village built on coal and labor.
An outhouse on a dirt road by a water pump
glared at the whitewashed fences of uniformed yards
that gaped like broken teeth in the mouths of miners.

All summer we played Cossacks and Bandits,
shot our symbolic rifles and revolvers
and when killed would crush a wild cherry
in the breast pocket, the spot where the heart stopped.

Who started it? The red spreading over white satin
never to be washed away completely,
“I killed you! I killed you!” I screamed
as he fell down. Men found him three years later

in the abandoned mine after an explosion,
his clothes covered with coal dust and blood.
Women howled like wolves. “It’s nothing,
he’ll get up,” I thought, “it’s just that stupid
wild cherry on his shirt.”


Katia Kapovich, "Cossacks and Bandits" from Cossacks and Bandits. Copyright © 2007 by Katia Kapovich.  Reprinted by permission of Salt Publishing.
Source: Cossacks and Bandits (Salt Publishing, 2007)
More Poems by Katia Kapovich