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LETTER, INCLUDING BEARS (poem) - Justin Quinn - Ireland - Poetry International
 
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LETTER, INCLUDING BEARS
                                   I
Dear Alistair, the summer’s in at last.
I saw a field of barley just today,
ears greenish, but the awns already brassed.
I saw a river trickling through dark clay.
I saw the hop-bines at a slant, their shapes
stacked high on trellises like wet drapes.
 
So, yes, it’s summer, but who wants pastorals?
I threw my apple blossoms in the trash
when Adolf started passing nasty bills,
said Brecht, then wrote in block caps at a dash.
Who’d sing the seasons when the Eastern Bear,
awakening after winter, sniffs the air?
 
The last few months we’re clicking on Ukraine –
the granary of Europe, transit gas,
etc. Corpses on the streets again
from Kiev out to Kharkiv and Donbas.
The languages and ethnic groups unclear.
Before this goes much further, I’ll need a beer.
 
                                  II
And get a second one in while I’m at it.
I’m thirsty after walking for six hours
along the different coloured pathways plaited
from Prague to here, past hills and lime-tree bowers,
past chateaux tourists call both Wow and Awesome,
and past the barley and the apple blossom.
 
It’s Beroun. The pub is in a wrecker’s yard
with tanks and armoured cars parked in a line
for kids to clamber on, a rusted rear-guard
the Russians left behind in ’eighty-nine.
Not far away the long E50 sings.
I like to sit here and consider things.
 
While this inflated bear, the brewery’s logo,
considers me. Irish. Letter writer.
Living in Central Europe (where it’s no-go
for Emperor, Commissar and Gauleiter
these last few decades). Basically, driftwood.
So, Bear, is this OK? Are we all good?
 
                                  III
The bear declines to say, but has a stein
of frothing beer in his soft plastic paws.
As well as that, he’s tied down with a guy line.
I think I’m good. I’ve given him no cause.
Now, where did we leave off? Russia . . . tanks . . .
(And since you’re here, I’ll have another. Thanks.)
 
Yes, well, who knows what’s going to happen next?
The Poles will fight, the Czechs are doing their best
to tell themselves Crimea wasn’t annexed
– it just returned to Mother Russia’s breast –
the Germans analysing how wind blows,
and Putin’s mad or bad – nobody knows.
 
In other words, the usual bloody mess
of Central Europe. But you’re in Berlin
and I’ve the same last lines in my address.
The hops and barley will be taken in,
malted, milled and mashed once more this year.
Dear Alistair, it seems we’re both still here.
 
                                  IV
These last few decades, everything I’ve seen –
a woman’s eyes widening at the gate;
a road in August that wends its way between
pylons and plum-trees; Mlýn Café when it’s getting late;
a different tongue adjusting how this hand
comes near, this breath makes song, these lips command –
 
how much do these things weigh? You took the measure
of the earth in forty sonnets, so tell.
Say also if our labour and our leisure
undo that earth, despite our meaning well.
And is the good life on the left or right,
or does it lie in arguing these all night?
 
The bubbles burst on this fresh glass of beer.
We make our globes and look to the horizons.
The Cold War gone, it seems we build a sphere,
then it implodes with terrifying licence
as money swerves off anytime it pleases.
And in midsummer, suddenly it freezes,
 
                                  V
or, years on, weeds start growing from the roofs
around this yard, the buildings near collapse.
I love to watch them putting on their grooves
when wind goes by. I love the wider gaps –
their radicals edging bricks apart like awls
to let large swathes of sun inside the walls.
 
I love the nettles drowsing near the rust-
encrusted finials of this old Trabant
and rain-warped office desk, becoming dust.
And in all this, the round and self-important
owner-brewer arrives today for work.
He pulls up in a shining, jet-black Merc
 
and knows his stuff, to judge by what I’ve had.
(I will, thanks, yes. No harm in a third.)
He’s talking vats and mashes with a lad
and listens to the other’s every word.
Like other artists, he spends his afternoons
making conversation in the ruins.
 
                                  VI
Or does he just take orders from the bear?
Who, by the way, is swaying in the breeze
more than before, as though he’s trying to tear
the guy line up and stroll about at ease.
It’s either that, or the beer is playing tricks.
(How many? Could be three, but hardly six.)
 
As I go out I give him a wide berth
and blunder backwards into an armoured car.
Absorbed in greater struggles of the earth,
he doesn’t deign to notice. The door’s ajar.
When I get in, I see whoever parked it
set up the bear as the machine gun’s target.
 
These last few decades, apple blossoms filled in
for politics, inflated bears made beer,
and real ones slumbered in the east. My children,
these last few decades, were born and grew up here.
The bear’s now gazing at me with no suggestion
of a smile or of a frown. What next? Good question.
 
                                         30 June – 7 July 2014