Edward Mackinnon

Taking Sides in Germany

It was in 72
that I became indirectly involved
in the Cold War, when I fellow-travelled
in unequally divided Germany
across the border with students
who wanted to study their strange cousins
in the eastern state,
and on the way back to the West
a quiet man in uniform asked, and no,
he was no ordinary officer or official,
for our passports and no, it wasn’t the Stasi,
this was the other side, so what a relief
when he didn’t take away mine with the others,
for mine was royal blue, and in this way I escaped
the frontline filing squad, squeezed back unnoticed
through a chink in the iron curtain
and avoided what? involvement
in the Cold War? no, later that year
I witnessed in divided Berlin
a late-night skirmish:
in Munich on TV
a ball drops through a hoop and all hell
breaks loose, through a bottomless basket,
the world’s a divided arena, battle lines
drawn in each half and a net
hangs from a ring like a gibbet.
Symbiosis rules. Pandemonium
rules as the ball with an invisible
hammer and sickle breaches the basket
of stars and stripes with a second to spare,
yes, a ball’s been hurled through a hoop
and behold there’s whooping on one side
of the divided world and wailing
on the other, while I’m watching
in divided Berlin with long-haired students
fired up on the sidelines, for one side’s
bombing Vietnam, which is why
they’re dancing a crazy conga
and doing their best to touch the ceiling
while the victors lie in a heaving heap
of limbs on the floor, it’s on TV,
and the defeated don’t know what’s hit them,
for this is war, the Cold War
in divided Germany, where one of the students
asks another, one with shorter hair,
why he’s punching air, you don’t care,
he says, for the Reds – no, the other replies,
but I like the Blacks even less,
and the first one feels a rush of blood
to the head and hits the other in the eye,
and which side that’s one in the eye for
I’m not sure, but all hell breaks loose
till the landlord pulls them apart
and the offended one delivers
to the offender’s bleeding face
his parting shot: Auf welcher Seite
stehst du denn, du Arschloch?
Yes, which side are you on?
to put it politely,
for this was the Cold War,
in Germany,
in 72

The televised event to which this poem refers is the 1972 Olympic basketball final between the USA and the USSR, which the latter won with the last throw of the match.

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