I. Vienna to Brno
As we cross the Danube and leave Vienna
the guy on my left reads every article
in Le Monde about the Paris terror.
The girl on my right reads Harry Potter in Czech
on her iPad then switches to the film adaptation.
At the Czech border two police officers
board the bus to check passports
while two more stand outside
flirting with the stewardess
as she hands them fresh coffee.
Syrian kids play in the car park
beside the border while their mother
hangs washing on a wire fence.
Across the border we pass casinos
a church on an island in a lake
a billboard featuring a topless woman
covering her breasts with one arm
while using the other to give the finger
to someone outside the frame.
I listen to Nirvana, U2 and Springsteen
as we pass vineyards, tractors ploughing
fields, villages centred around churches
hundreds of windmills generating
guilt-free energy, billboards advertising
Aqualand Moravia. The girl beside me
carries on two text conversations
simultaneously, deftly switching
between Nokia and Samsung.
She falls asleep sixteen k’s from Brno
as we pass a subdivision of McMansions
and Hagrid comforts Hermione. A train
rushes past in the opposite direction
as Springsteen growls “this is your hometown.”
II. Presov to Bratislava
At Kysak, old men drink vodka before departure.
Stacks of Hanjin shipping containers
rust beside crumbling Soviet factories.
Mist hovers above the pine-tree-covered hills.
Patches of snow glint atop mountains.
Cabins reflect in frigid lakes.
Four old ladies talk unceasingly for hours.
Nine young men drink pivo in the dining car
while singing along to folk music
blasting from a cell phone.
A young couple run their hands
through each other’s hair and over
the contours of toned taut muscles.
Passengers produce seemingly endless supplies
of bread, meat and cheese from luggage.
The train passes a ruined castle
on a rocky outcrop as I sip whisky
in the dining car. Hundreds
of architecturally-identical villages
occupy both sides of the line.
Infrastructure crumbles and rusts
at every station while orange-clad workers
stand in doorways watching with folded arms.
Vegetable gardens and orchards fill the front
and back yards of houses and cottages –
no space wasted on lawns here.
Steep roofs suggest heavy snows.
A man orders a glass of vodka
in the dining car and knocks it back
before the waitress can calculate change.
Woodsmoke emanates from chimneys
and drifts away towards forested hills.
Church clocks and bell towers rise above
villages projecting power over the people.
An old woman cuts the queue at the bar.
A young man shrugs and sighs – “this is Slovakia.”
III. Bratislava to Vienna
makes visible the unmarked border
between Slovakia and Austria
as girls beside me converse
in Slovakian and read memes
from their iPhones aloud in English.
Grey skies lower above
flat green countryside.
Animals are absent.
A Slovakian girl repeatedly
adjusts her hair while the guy
behind her takes selfies
and laughs at his own image.
Windmills tall as abbeys
cram the horizon.
and grey columns support
slowly turning red-striped blades
above ploughed and planted
unfenced fields. A young woman
wears a t-shirt with the word Zero
emblazoned in silver across
her breasts, defying reality.
Black leather boots zip
all the way up to her bare knees.
The elderly conductor mutters
and sighs as he checks tickets.
New apartment buildings rise
above fields on the edge of Vienna
marking suburbia’s edge.
Inside the city, Mercedes,
Audis and BMWs proliferate.
Wealth makes itself visible.
The garden sheds have flower boxes
and lace curtains in the windows.
A signal box covered in graffiti
says this city is just like any other
despite the Danube, Aryan beauty,
waltzes, fur coats, cake and coffee.
Letters painted on a metal fence
proclaim Arise! while a Bauhaus
sign promises modernity.
Nathanael O’Reilly was born and raised in Australia and now lives in Texas. He is the author of the full-length collection Distance and the chapbooks Suburban Exile and Symptoms of Homesickness. He is the recipient of an Emerging Writers Grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. His poems have been published in journals and anthologies in eight countries, including Antipodes, Australian Love Poems, Bluepepper, Cordite, fourW, LiNQ, Mascara, Postcolonial Text, Prosopisia, Red River Review, Snorkel, Social Alternatives, Tincture, Transnational Literature, Verity La and Writ Poetry Review. His new chapbook CULT is forthcoming from Ginninderra Press, and his New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham is forthcoming from UWAP.
Nathanael will be reading at The Dan O’Connell Hotel in Melbourne on May 21st. His books are available here.