Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, November 17, 2019
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
– Hart Crane
I have been dreaming I am in New York. Looking out across the harbour to where the bridge begins and ends. With a paperback of poems to carry as I walk, walk across thee. Waiting for the sun to set, I follow the steps upwards to the bridge where time spans like birds in flight.
From the book an image draws fragile in my hands. Without looking down I know on the cover is the bridge, pastel coloured and simple. The suspension of wires dominates the view, dark lines crossing over. The lines that cross from the centre outwards, to the bricks of Brooklyn. Birds fly distant, the kinds that children draw, shaping the letter m for movement. Through the middle rising upwards a vertical blue like crayon marks, shading to where the sky and water meet ascending; to the blue of distance that throws outwards and upwards. Joining the impossible like a bridge from shore to shore. The city in the distance marked in pink, as it might look in the morning light. It contrasts with the black lines of iron girders, and the steps leading onwards to the bridge.
I know that inside the book is an inscription that reads To A. neat and precise with just one x to mark the spot. In your room the books in stacks surround us. The books like bridges: we take turns to select one and read out the first line. I pick up the book of poems saying I want to read it. And so, you take the book, write just inside the cover and give it to me. I never read further than the first poem or skim a few lines here and there. Still the words reach out and form a trail I must follow, in endless rivers crossing the land and all the flow of words that clogs them. Books that don’t belong to anyone, that stay with us for a time.
I sit down and read, imagining that I look to where your arches end and the point at which the shadow forms. I read: Under thy shadow by the pier I waited / Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
Hart Crane looked out from his window on Columbia Heights in Brooklyn, compelled by a changing view of the bridge. A vision to chase in symbolic form, in language. I look to find the author in its solid lines, in all its transient footsteps. To see him address the other side and set these bridges in motion. And the bridge moves as we walk. Its solid lines make stillness and motion combine. Iridescent, it sets in motion each day past; as though night and the fall of morning were gone already.
Waiting for night to fall, the dark comes quickly, and in crossing the city changes from the red and pink of dying lights, across purple-blue; to see the bridge come alive and the city melt in its shadow. I walk across moving through the crowds of people posing for photographs; there is no solitary view of the bridge, no chance to stand and look across.
In the centre, two domed arches from which a series of wires are suspended in grid-like lines drawn against the sky. They are not so much imprisoning as uplifting, reaching high across the city. I walk taking blurry impressionistic pictures, city lights of many colours. Buildings that reflect one another, incandescent and blurring away into hazy distance. Becoming ghostly, they question solidity. Walking the bridge, it lives in motion. The wires suspended in black lines to draw you upwards. The view of the bridge that comes from walking.
With you he walked across, hand in hand, in rapture. From this moment: these bridges in motion. Always crossing, from what is past and present, to what is on the other side.
Walking across as sunset came and went. The sudden descent of darkness and the changing colours of the lights; the endless streams of traffic passing. When everything that lies below becomes murkier and more uncertain. The bridge measures out the distance between each wire, and our eyes fix on a series of lines laid out as far as the eye can see across the unfathomable reaches of water.
As darkness falls the wires suspended are lit with fairy lights that twinkle, that dwindle into distance, even as the darkness seems more engulfing. It saturates the sky above and draws upwards from the dark constant of the river below. And above and below are where the bridge remains suspended. Its very tautness and the precision of its measurement are carefully weighted against the depths; yet still the depths remain and seem ever closer. It is there in the way it joins across a gulf, a chasm; by its very joining it projects our thoughts to what lies below.
In the night you dance exhilarated holding hands. Dancing over the bridge, uplifted. Like the bridge you are indestructible. The bridge is more than just a bridge. The bridge is life. In rapture you seek to say what daunts, what sinks under river water. To look upwards, where wires close in, suspending thoughts from city to city, from river bank to sea shore. So that for a moment you are flying, though you may always believe in falling.
The water dark and obscuring. The bridge brings a shape and form to what is unfathomable. You must believe that there is a way to say it, that the bridge is possible. That you can write a message in a bottle and throw it carelessly to the currents, in waves. The bridge that cuts you off, unreachable, lost at sea. Your meaning obscured when you wanted to make visible another world just beyond this one. The bridge transports in metaphor, to carry across, from one side to the other. You leave only your words. While somewhere there are those that fall between the gaps, who find the unknown in the measured reason of the bridge.
While I have been crossing the bridge, darkness has come and changed the world as we see it. Each day, the same adjustment. From the solid mass of stone, soar two great arches, the strength of steel wires, thick and twisted, to iron girders bordering the edges, and thinner wires reaching out grid-like, touching the blue true of the sky, the billowing clouds, the coming light. The light that is always coming. There is colour and a sense of the city all around. Impressions gather like scattered lights and solid lines of steel.
I am always imagining endings. That I might look down to the river and see your message in a bottle, transcending time. The past is there and waits for us to cross. Now the book leads me to the bridge. Crossing over, crossing back to what came before. A bridge to my past self, wherever time has placed you.
Across the vast silences like the river flowing, ever-flowing. When things changed, and each moment was already lost, unreal.
I sometimes think we were never present; we were already looking back. You once wrote of me as a silhouette receding against the sky. Was it always so? I find you here again as I pick up the book and read onwards. I am free to cross the bridge and look back across the city, that expanse of time that is past. Is there a chance then, that when you read this you may say, that is not how it was, that is not what I said, that is not how it was, at all?