Walter Bargen: "Prague Floods, 2002"



…the Germans will think the Czechs use strange chairs.

                                                —Antonin Strizek


The Vltava River must be tired:

leaning back in an oversized chair

kicking its soggy feet 

over the bank,

taking a break,

smoking a misty cigarette,

sipping latte-colored currents

swirling along abandoned streets,

as if humans are the only measure,

twisting around bridge pilings.


Time to move on to the next job

in the next city with more furniture

to float off, making the rounds

through living rooms and kitchens,

couches and beds to rearrange,

a sodden interior redesigner─

this a river’s exuberant

late summer decor.


In the municipal library,

the river reads too easily

the proclamations, the declarations

of communists and party hacks.

On its way to North Sea beaches,

it drops the news

of counter revolutions

and aging reactionaries.

Old manifestoes compost

with cabbage leaves

in German backyards.


Water music is heard

slipping through the Mala Strana.

When the wet score recedes

twenty-three grand pianos

are tuned to silt and followed

by a concerto

of crowbars and hammers.


How water loves to act

at the Archa Theater:

submerged avant-garde performances

punctuated by a stutter of bubbles,

as if the secret police

were still listening to each new wave.


The Old Jewish Cemetery

with its decks of stacked headstones

waits to be reshuffled

and dealt again the same losing hand,

beyond treading water,

the croupier washed away,

loan sharks still circling.


Magdelena Jelelove’s oversized chair

with the river seated comfortably

in the contemporary art museum courtyard,

destined for a garden in Leipzig,

confirming the Czech’s oddity

and their monstrous posteriors.



Walter Bargen has published thirteen collections of poetry.  His recent books are Theban Traffic (2008) and Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (2009).  He is the winner of the Chester H. Jones Foundation prize in 1997, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1991, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award in 2005.  He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).