The Beautiful Fuck You
Hiking through a foreign country, farm to farm,
in the crisp morning my feet emerge from frost and fog.
I raise my head and around me swirls haze and smoke,
a cold mist from my mouth.
Birds swoop up the hill behind as I march, crows.
They refuse to billow steam
although I mentally command them,
a wedge of black locomotives in the sky, headed north.
At the peak of the frosted green, a halt.
A border wall of brambles between farms,
a thicket of thorns twice my height,
a mile in length over the summit, down the slope,
onto the next hill, beyond,
thick as a car, two cars, a highway,
In the valley between hills
lies a stile wide enough for tank
and the only other person in view,
headed for the crossing.
Down, down, a half-stumble, a laugh,
a human voice tiny in the expanse,
unnoticeable, I hurry, I huff,
and winded like a bellows with a hole, I arrive
to meet a grey-shawled farm woman.
Older but not heavy,
her arms are strong and face rosy in the frost.
Her skeptical eye twinkles over me,
raises an eyebrow.
Her pale mouth turns to a frown
that's waiting to laugh.
"This!" My arm thrusts at the monolith of hostility,
the razor-sharp border of an angry, defensive land.
"What is it?"
"Landwehren," she says. The laugh begins
in her eyes. A swing of her arm draws a circle
around the two hills, the wall of rose thorns,
dense underbrush so tall it's overbrush,
two meters thick, ten meters, more.
And six hundred years before, farmers guided the rawness of nature.
They doubled over the beeches, tips bent back and planted
to grow again, unbroken, a skeleton for the central roses.
And thorn trees they became. The blades grew thick and mighty,
heavy with age, deft with weight,
knives that let you know about your stabbing
only after they pull out
and the bleeding to death begins.
"A border?" My hand follows hers. "Defense?"
"Beautiful," she said. "In just one month more. Beautiful."
"Imposing, yes?" she asks. "Beautiful. The battle of Hagen. It did not happen here.
Not in history books. For these roses."
"That's not in the history? Isn't it important?"
"Two armies could not meet!" She cackles.
Fingertips touch her mouth, hide the smile.
At last, I slowly nod.
"Landwehren," I repeat. "Beautiful."
These brambles, an ocean of tangled fighting,
clattering in the wind and snow,
piling up strength so that four hundred years before
a battle didn't happen here.
Six hundred years on earth altogether
this creature, this thing, this product of farm and wild nature
ancestor of all such plants of the countryside,
it defended its offspring from the world.
It still holds its position, fights off trees and grass
fends off the hawthorn, the encroaching oaks,
the intimidated cows, the sheep,
It strong-arms the farmers
and the farmers' masters
as when, four hundred years ago,
two armies tried to meet
blocked by the barrier of thorns,
a giant of greenery, unconquerable.
Rain check, flower check, fight you later.
This plant, by any other name, would be
the fuck-you bush,
quietly but unmistakably giving the finger
to the sinners, the saints, the bears, the foxes,
to the grasses, the crops, the privates and generals,
to angels and devils,
to creation itself
a miles-long defense,
a mighty legend in the history of nature, human and not human.
But from a distance it's known, on the written page,
as a hedge of roses.