Fern Hollow Bridge
The high bridge carries a roadway out of town,
an earlier generation’s pride and wonder,
emblem of man’s ambition. From below
on the park path, it’s an iron rainbow,
a sky that booms with ungiving thunder
above a shallow stream that gave no grace
to the promising son who did himself to death
choosing to break himself on the dusty path.
Above, the walker along the red-painted rail,
pausing, has distance and time to see
the ordained net,
the thick unconscious trees.
Walking across an ancient bridge in Spain
midway I saw a saint, feet hidden in wax.
On the bridge between us can we build such a shrine
to consecrate a place where I flinch to look down?
and on this bare span conjure a blessed shape,
a braided cord to be lit by journeyers?
Mourner, comforter; relict—offer thanks
for the sad iron we walk over the gap.
This poem appears in my book, City Bird (Ragged Sky, 2016). I drove over that bridge many times, sometimes to see my late friend Mary Riley, a poet who lived in Wilkinsburg: mourner, comforter, relict. I walked over it, too, as many people in the area did. But how many people knew before it collapsed catastrophically in January, 2022 that it was called “Fern Hollow Bridge”? I didn’t; in the book I called it “Forbes Avenue Bridge,” which probably describes 20 bridges at least. Drivers took no notice of it, but walkers—over it or under it—could see and hear its drama.