3 Poems by E A Gleeson

Tartu 1941


In the middle of an almost ordinary night

when the household is silent except

for the soft sounds of breath

a knock

a pounding bang, shouts

and the movement of soldiers

letting it be known they had encircled the house.

The commands are brief. The decree hurried.

In less than an hour, he has packed

a single overnight bag

whispered to his wife

that this will not take long

that he would be back to her, soon,

as he was a man with some authority.

Perhaps, he wonders, if this last fact

is not known to the soldiers who herd

him into the truck and yell and ram guns

at him. When they reach the railway station

dozens of trucks disgorge passengers

to the platform, women and children

to the front, men to the back.

Estonia 1941–2019

Branches of birch hung in their play space.

Slender trunks framed cubbies, marked territory

for Cowboy and Indian manoeuvres. The canopy

of shade added mystery to chasey and hide and seek,

secrecy for sweethearts. In winter, patches of light

romped over hunters, warmed walkers tramping

through the crunch of just fallen snow. With the lovers

the low summer sun lingered into evenings.

When the birch forests became war grounds,

everything shifted. Willowy branches allowed

so much sight. Slender trunks, too sparse for shelter,

but between them, space enough for digging deep,

and from them, long straight boards lining dugouts,

havens from shoot-outs, venues for dispensing rough

justice. Bunkers and forest camps. Fragile fortresses

of make-do weaponry and erratic food supply.

These forests have kept their silence, held secrets –

Knowledge knotted in troubled hearts, frayed

in decaying archives on rotting bunker shelves, in

unsettled minds of men walking and re-walking forests.

Unsolved village riddles. Enduring enigmas.

Dappled light, a pall of soft snow. Tendrils of birch.

In this time of unravelling, the forests are letting go

but holding safe, the bones, only the bones.


I listen to people recount

what it was to stand in a line

of two million people. Yes,

two million people standing

in a line from Tallinn to Vilnius

so that when word came at seven,

two million people joined hands.

Yes. That is four million hands

holding each other, yes, holding

each other and flowers and candles.

We lit candles, hundreds of candles

bright enough for Moscow to see.

And what was the sound?

We sang. We sang the song.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,

wake up! Yes, the song

that had been written for this day.

We sang the songs of our countries.

Yes, the Forbidden Songs. We sang 

loud enough for Moscow to hear.

And when did the line form?

We gathered at six-thirty

on the twenty-third

of August in 1989.

Fifty years on from the signing

of the Molotov-Ribbontrop pact.

But at seven, we joined hands,

all of us linked.  A human chain

from Tallinn, through Riga

and down to Vilnius. We sang

and kept singing for months

till Moscow understood.

Were you there, in the line?

I ask the woman selling lace shawls

in Ha’apsalu, lace fine enough to slip

through a wedding ring.

No, I was not. Her eyes lock with mine.

On that day, she tells me,

I too was creating the future.

On that day, I gave birth to my son.

About the contributor

E A Gleeson has been researching, travelling to and writing about Estonia for ten years. Her interest was initially driven by her work in the funeral industry and has been sustained through the Melbourne Estonian community. She has published three collections of poetry, essays, articles and reviews. www.eagleeson.com.au

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