One time I was talking
With my friend Frank.
I could be a bridge.
If you are a bridge I'll be one too
But what would we do?
We would be
We would be a curiosity.
We wouldn't have to do anything.
People would weave stories around us.
There were two friends, they would say.
On his way to visit his friend.
And his friend built the bridge in his honor
And scattered his ashes on the bridge
So his soul would not be lost to the stream.
And, says Frank,
When I died
Built a second bridge
To honor our friendship!
And they (the villagers) might say:
It's good luck to cross to the village on one
But make sure you only cross back on the other.
I would be made of stone
With an arch, with a keystone.
I would hold up the path
For as long as I was needed,
Until nobody walked
To the market anymore . . .
Or until everyone had crossed.
Imagining himself as
A bridge that helps souls cross.
Perhaps I would forget
That I was ever not a bridge.
Good thing you are there
To remind me.
And visa versa,
Sometimes I would forget
That I was once a person
And you would say,
Do you remember when
We were people?
Really? Frank affected.
Yes, we always walked side by side?
Your steps weren't quite as long as mine.
I always imagined I was walking in slow motion
When we walked together!
There was only one place,
(Do you remember that place?)
Where the path skirts the ledge
And only one person can pass at a time?
Yes, when we got older
I couldn't help but worry
About you because you weren't steady.
I worried about you too,
When we were old.
. . . That this would be where we lose each other.
It would just take one false step.
Isn't imagination amazing?
But maybe they aren't stories.
Maybe they are memories.
That's what happened
When Frank and I got together.
(He was a writer of kid's books
And I, the poet.)
We would share a waking dream
Of the two bridges
And an hour goes by.
(And how would you know when to stop?)
Oh, maybe a boat would appear on the stream
Passing under the two bridges
With a fisherman
In the stern
Guiding the boat with a pole
And as the boat passes beneath the bridges
They seem to be carrying on a conversation
And the fisherman rests and listens.
Or maybe it's just the water
Talking to itself,
Or to whoever will listen,
Which usually is nobody.
But this time someone is listening
And that makes the water very happy.
This poem was not meant to be in the form of a conversation with my recently deceased friend, Frank. He just started talking and asking questions, like, if we were to become bridges, "what would we do?". Excellent question, right? What do bridges do? Nothing and everything. They just are. Once they are built, their structural and design integrity becomes part of the landscape, beautiful or ugly, as the case may be, extending path or road through the air from solid ground to solid ground. When I started the poem, the image of two bridges crossing a stream, side by side, was in my imagination. But there was no context, no explanation. Sometimes we see two bridges crossing in the same place but usually one of the bridges is an old steel railroad bridge and the other is newer and is for cars. Here I am picturing two older bridges, roughly the same age and painted red, like something you might see in an old Chinese landscape. I begin with the simple statement, "One time I was talking / with my friend Frank." Past tense. After that it's like stepping out of a time machine into that "one time", which is a distillation of many times that Frank and I would pool our imaginations to weave ourselves into a story.
I'm using punctuation in this poem, which is unusual. In real life there is no punctuation. Next time you have a conversation listen to how it goes. When you punctuate, the punctuation is a kind of a structural overlay. I would rather go for creating a mood or a feeling-tone. Maybe it's the difference between line drawing and water-color. Punctuation is more appropriate in prose, but poetry is more about metaphor and imagination and feeling. So why did I used punctuation this time? I'm not completely sure. I think it's because I wanted to make sure I didn't lose the reader. But honestly, I don't care if the order of the speakers is confusing or if I scramble the speakers in the middle. This poem is not about me or Frank, it is about two bridges that are curiously side by side and about a friendship that continues in spirit. It's not about this friend and that friend but about a timeless relationship between two creative people or creative spirits, meeting in a poem, which is open ended and respectful of their autonomy. I see punctuation as a prop in this poem, helpful but not essential.
(Article changed on Jun 01, 2022 at 10:38 AM EDT)
(Article changed on Jun 02, 2022 at 1:03 PM EDT)