Late winter. Ice cold and drained of color
as fingertips cut off from oxygen.
Heading south on the Henry Hudson


the road curves, and through the vertical
tangle of tree trunks and bare branches
the idea of a bridge appears, erased


and returned by the windshield wipers.
Suspenders thin as harp strings lift
the horizontal span to meet


a pair of silvery catenary curves
so much the color of the day
their outlines look drawn in pencil on the sky,


the volume of each cable, four feet
in diameter and made of enough
miles of wire to crank us halfway


to the moon, reading like paper
pouring through a watercolor,
like the silence in music. Water,


cliffs, sky, birds flicker in the Xs
and Vs of its bare piers and towers,
the latticed girders soaring up


through space singing with the economy
of a poem held captive by its form,
claiming no more of the heavens and earth


than necessary to do its job.
From outside the car, the landscape’s palette
of greys and browns, and our black umbrella,


frame the steel bridge sliding off
into the clouds draped like angel hair
over the denuded trees filigreed on the Palisades.


To anyone standing on the New Jersey side
Manhattan would look the same, the bridge’s
thrust vaporizing into the mists masking


the 179th Street anchorage, a picture
of just how real the connection
between Manhattan and America is.


To the figures on barges plying the river,
and on the brigantine materializing
under power from the white breath of the Hudson’s


mouth, who see the bridge more nearly dead on,
the toy cars and trucks skimming its motion
east and west must seem to drive off the world.


As we watch, fog snuffs out the third dimension
and civilization (except for the baffled roar
of traffic), and the penciled bridge


fades, as if time had wound backward
to the blank page in Othmar Ammann’s sketch pad,
leaving only the glimmer of a red lighthouse


for just such conditions, there
at the bottom left-hand edge of the waterscape,
close by the downstream flank of the bridge,


guarding Jeffrey’s Point,
an artifact from our century’s childhood,
freshly painted and well maintained as any


childhood, beckoning, not even ankle high
to the bridge, barely three humans high,
its bell silenced, its lens gone.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 7, on page 36
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