Monday, July 30, 2012

"The Bridge"

This post is the result of several intersections, some coincidental (between the birthday of Hart Crane--just a few days ago, July 21--and our current year, 2012, the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge), some juxtapositional (between The Brooklyn and Golden Gate Bridges), and some born of personal history and poetic heritage. With the direction of my poetic mentors, my particular reading path led me through Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot and Crane--argued by Harold Bloom to be (with the addition of Robert Frost), the major American poets.

The result was that after reading Crane's "The Bridge," I was compelled to write a tribute to our own bay area icon that shines its beacon of "International Vermillion" to the pleasure of all who approach or pass through The Gate.

By no means do I equate my work with Crane's masterpiece. I share it to add my grateful note to his symphony, to celebrate the art and life embodied in our own "harp and altar, fury fused," and to encourage readers to read (or reread) Crane, both for the pleasure of his rhapsodic lyricism and as inspiration to realize their own transcendental yearnings. First, the proem to Crane's "The Bridge," as call, and then my proem to "The Gate" as answer...

To Brooklyn Bridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

Hart Crane
1930, Black Sun Press

The Gate

To The Golden Gate Bridge

How many sunsets have white hairs of fog
Fallen from the headlands, collected
In the gate’s throat like fleece beneath
A sigh of stars? How many torn

Moon-ears, up all night, listening
For the feverish cries of gulls
Sweeping vermilion waves
Through restless shadows?

I think of the sepia harvested for ink
From octopus, cuttlefish and squid.
How they glow with phosphorescence that reaches
Its greatest intensity a few days after they are dead.

And you, golden blade, surrogate stitch
In the continent’s deep wound,
Suppurating your stories out to sea,
Stories of limestone, ash and lava,

How many times have your waters parted, dissolving
Into nothing, then starting up again
In the life of this shorn planet? How many worlds
Have collided to flood this valley, slice

Its hills into islands, how many words strung together
Into sonnets beneath your harp strings,
Rising like incense, like a web of vines stretching
To the mountains to which we look for help,

Shrouded in burning clouds, smoking by day,
Glowing by night? How many foghorns
Pressed into the dark wall of sleep,
Like swollen seeds thumbed into humus,

Sprouting to the surface, waiting
For the sun, that one faithful fire-eye
Blinking through mist, searching for its twin—
The earth, and all its fullness, which turns

Art to life, life to art, the truest of all
Lovers? How many nights
Has your watery bed swayed
Beneath your broad back? How many days

Has the bay rolled open its scroll of ciphers,
The moon squinting to read the pages
Of the surf, all in one glance, before they fade
On a loom of soggy loam, weaving

A landscape that is more like itself than itself
At each power of magnification, each level
Of imagination, twisting like snowflakes
In an earthquake, ragged white corpuscles

Swimming up the bloodstream to the head
Waters of the brain, where fractals mediate
Between the amygdala and the Dalai Lama,
The pain of wisdom and the ecstasy of speech?

The last cigarette and the iron sea.

Terry Lucas
2009, Fifth Wednesday Journal

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