'Picking Mushrooms in Gdansk'

I wrote this poem in 1983, but this is its first publication. At the time I sent it out to several magazines without success. With so much media talk about "fake news" in the days of the Trump White House, I was reminded of the poem and my attempt to get at the nub of what to believe in popularly reported accounts of life in the world. What's more, when my friend Kate Hanson Foster posted on Facebook about the white supremacist rally in Virginia on August 11 and 12 of this year, I was struck by the mundane detail she included about a local department store and its supply of tiki torches used for evening yard parties. We know, of course, that the "Unite the Right" fanatics with their racist and hate chants chose those mass-manufactured torches for their dark march in Charlottesville. It's a cliche, but some facts defy invention. The maker of tiki torches and the Walmart company afterward both condemned the hate-mongers. After Kate's post, I thought the poem may have found its moment 34 years later. Please excuse the note being longer than the poem. I felt that I owed readers the background.--- PM

Picking Mushrooms in Gdansk

"The Charlottesville Walmart ran out of tiki torches." -- KHF on Facebook, 8/17

Above the flares of border guards a balloon of stitched raincoats

Drifted over the ripped Curtain into Austria. In the basket was a Czech hero,

His racing bike broken down and packed. The same night two sentries

Scaled a high fence in East Berlin after waiting a year for the army to pair them.

Assault rifles and all, the men raised beers in a U.S. Zone bar.

CBS, AP, BBC, NPR, all the outlets produce reports like instant coffee,

The latest bit from Poland, where "labor leader Lech Walesa"

Told sniffing hounds of his surprise while driving with friends

To pick mushrooms in the forest when radio news announced

He had won the Nobel Peace Prize. If the irreducible act,

Immediately broadcast, registers like a tuned string, I take it for truth,

Weighed against news I've proofed in a mix of first-hand views and faith.