Papa’s Bridge

I am often asked about my duel-life as an engineer and poet. In part, this poem is a response to that question. But equally so, here I was interested in exploring the connection, or “bridge” between landscape, memory, and emotion. We are three-dimensional beings. Our experiences always happen in the context of a specific physical landscape. To remember some one, some thing, or some emotion, often means to remember that some place to which these are connected.

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Morning, driving west again, away from the sun
rising in the slit of the rearview mirror, as I climb
on slabs of concrete and steel bent into a bridge
arcing with all its parabolic y-squared splendor.
I rise to meet the shimmering faces of buildings
above tree tops meshed into a calico of greens,
forgetting the river below runs, insists on running
and scouring the earth, moving it grain by grain.

And for a few inclined seconds every morning
I am twelve years old with my father standing
at the tenth floor window of his hospital room,
gazing at this same bridge like a mammoth bone
aching with the gravity of its own dense weight.
The glass dosed by a tepid light reviving the city
as I watched and read his sleeping, wondering
if he could even dream in such dreamless white:

Was he falling? Was he flying? Who was he, who
was I underneath his eyes, flitting like the birds
across the rooftops and early stars wasting away,
the rush-hour cars pushing through the avenues
like the tiny blood cells through his vein, the I.V.
spiraling down like a string of clear licorice feeding
his forearm, bruised pearl and lavender, colors
of the morning haze and the pills on his tongue.

The stitches healed, while the room kept sterile
with the usual silence between us. For three days
I served him water or juice in wilting paper cups,
flipped through muted soap operas and game shows,
and filled out the menu cards stamped Bland Diet.
For three nights I wedged flat and strange pillows
around his body like a fallen S shaped by the bed
and mortared in place by layers of stiff percale.

When he was ordered to walk, I took his hand,
together we stepped to the window and he spoke
–You’ll know how to build bridges like that someday–
today, I cross this city, this bridge, still spanning
the silent distance between us with the memory
of a father and son holding hands, secretly in love.