Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Field Guide to a Figured World.

Field Guide to a Figured World

The bridge is out, a woman tells me. I query: 
did you walk across it anyway? No, she says,
she didn’t try it. The bridge is out, I’ve been told
this now for years, but still I’ve walked across it,
leaned, even, against its railings to look 

into the water rushing down a decline, as all
rivers do, or they wouldn’t be rivers at all.
Looking at the barn swallows, hieing 
themselves from the water into the cross-
currents, playing the drift, in what seems

from here, the bridge’s edge, a kind 
of idling, purposeless, all their gleanings invisible. 
The air is thick with what they seek, and 
the cloudy world of blue and mist and gathered
rain potent and withheld. I inspect the bridge,

its seven spans, with care, its closure announced 
in definite terms: DANGER: but also provisional: 
the sign’s enclosed in a plastic sleeve, like 
an assignment turned in for grading, before paper 
turned obsolete. They’ve propped cattle gates 

across both ends, but left them slanting open. I read 
the message as DANGER, but not for you, 
not really. I take its invitation—the provision 
signaling in two directions. I want to see the whole 
panorama of the birds, flying up from under 

the bridge’s beams in extravagant loops, wings 
open to take the air, then tucked to glide 
back under to their nests, the thunder 
of the water over rocks as their contra basso, 
their chatter a countermelody, the wind moving 

through grasses at the banks maybe the motif,
recurring, that holds the whole composition together?
Anyway, that’s a little conceit I consider briefly, 
standing on the bridge that’s a ruin, or about to be, 
as the birds perform their aerial feats: 

I come to see it every year, I hold it sacred, 
though I know they soar and plummet for no one 
but themselves, and certainly not for me. 
And really, the birds are almost beside the point, 
rather that I come to them every year, 

at home in this world, its grasses and snaking river 
a garden out of which I grew, always knowing 
I could return, could watch for decades
as the bridge began to fall apart, and people
considered its repair, and the birds made

their nests and the water ever tore its passage 
downhill, and made the banks yield to its fury. 
Rocks, river, the wide sky and its rookery, its hawks 
wheeling overhead: all this I have studied, 
with a little field guide fit to my hands, 

lenses trained to loop and soar in the patterns 
of bird flight: and you, whom I have invited 
to cross this possibly treacherous bridge with me, 
you might read that sign and believe it, believe 
that the river I show you is not yours to cross, 

in fact you may not see yourself in it at all: for you, 
perhaps, the field appears nearly blank, does not 
welcome you, its tract is not your book, its sphere 
is not your ground. It should be no epiphany 
to say so, I should have known it by now. 

My path to the river will not be yours, 
and your path to wherever you’re going, 
folded into the map you hold that I can’t see, 
will not be mine. And what of it? This bridge 
is going to fail, and no tentative bravado of mine

will stop that disaster from its event. Will it interest you 
to know that today, I saw, fleetingly, a swallow, 
violet-green, and a tanager’s red neck? my missal 
is a folded page, tucked into a pocket 
next to a pen, for when the word occurs to me, 

set into flight by the downward swoop 
of passerines. And yours? I am curious: 
if I show you the figures the birds make of the air, 
tell you that I am of the people who build and then 
neglect bridges, will you open your book, 

its alphabets inscribed both faint and bold, 
interpret its languages, unfold it, show me
the print faded into the creases? Tell me
what birds, if birds, inscribe your skies? what 
the grasses are, if grasses, that score your music?

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow. Wow. Wow.
    I love this so much.



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