Carol Hamilton
Latvia for Beginners

Latvia is a land without soccer games or sunsets.
Its natives observe St. Patrick’s Day, but
no one in Riga has seen an Irish setter.
They lace their drinks with aqavit and salt.

Latvians listen at night to Baltic composers,
to the north wind’s dreary, interminable laments,
and to radio broadcasts from World War II.
Riga is the sister city of Tierra del Fuego.

They court one another at bus stops—only there—
and make love beneath busts of Napoleon and Lenin.
They spend holidays watching reruns of Perry Mason,
and they universally despise Émile Zola.

All Latvians have naturally beautiful teeth
as perfect as the tiny tombstones of insects.
In autumn, however, the people can look monotonous
in their Burberry trench coats and green Wellington boots.

Their language can only be translated into Swahili.
It sounds different at night than it does during the day.
Their poets compose while standing on their heads,
and children address old men in the imperative.

If you have never been to Latvia, you should visit
as soon as possible, bringing all your money,
a few jars of peanuts, and a three-inch switchblade knife
to protect you when you walk back to your hotel on

moonless nights. For the Latvians can be violent,
unlike the Viennese, and they sometimes take umbrage
at the bad manners of tourists who only speak English,
who point, and stare, and fondle the locals like puppies.