Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Northern Avenue Bridge

The Northern Avenue Bridge closed
years ago to motor traffic.
Pedestrians still cross unless

the red light blinks and the swing
span opens for water craft
on Fort Point Channel. Rusty

steelwork casts elaborate shadows
on the weed-trimmed deck. I pause
at the west end and note the swing

span open although no boats appear.
The channel looks deep enough
to float a cruise ship. If I dropped

from here I’d sink so far the flesh
would peel from the bone before
I ever touched bottom. Long ago,

bicycling over this bridge, I saw
two kids diving into the dark,
splashing like seals, laughing off

the threat of drowning and shouts
of the bridge-keeper whose shack
still clung to one abutment

reached by a long wooden stair.
That shack collapsed in a storm
at least forty years ago

and lingered as a ruin for two
more decades before slipping
forever into the dark. The shadows

cast by the girders look strong
enough to support real traffic
again, but the city engineers

in their finite wisdom declared
the weight-bearing impossible,
and for a long time considered

the swing span inoperable
and so propped it open for good.
Now it works again but only

for sloggers like me who prefer
their city travel slow and certain,
and who like to tempt ourselves

by crossing unsure dimensions
with all of our senses tingling
as shadow and light intersect.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Seta’s Cafe

In Seta’s café on Belmont Street
the menus scorch our hands. Arriving
by trolley bus in a blue

shower of sparks, we left
our fellow passengers tired
of the grunt and grind of crawling

from Harvard Square to the suburbs—
the gaunt rumple of Mount Auburn
pimpled with thousands of headstones

grimacing as we passed. We order
mezze to munch while we talk.
Hummus, metch, yalanchi, stuffed

cabbage washed down with espresso
and trimmed with slabs of za’atar.
We should never leave this warmth

and street view, should recuse
or refine our lifelong quarrel
so we can work in the kitchen

together, washing dishes, chopping
vegetables, sleeping on the floor
after hours when the buses

have parked behind chain-link fence
and the commuters snore all spooned
against each other. You fear me,

though, fear my agnostic silence,
my subtle readings of Emerson,
my lust for expensive power tools,

my disbelief in photographs
my nostalgia for the whiskey death
Dylan Thomas so deeply enjoyed.

The café hums with pride in itself.
The plate glass windows shiver
as another bus passes. Cups

and saucers rattle. Other patrons
grow intimate with each other,
but we lean back and order

spinach and cheese turnovers
to anchor us to conversation
shaped by duty rather than love.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

What Would Jesus Say?

Power tools crouch in the cold,
radial and table saws alert
in muck of sawdust. Fringed

with yesterday’s snow, the scene
features two green unfolded
A-shaped Fiberglas stepladders.

Atop one, the carpenter,
laden with tools, examines
the slot where the next board goes.

Replacing this rot-damaged
oriel window’s not easy.
I wish I had the skill and drive

to correct whole worlds of decay,
rasping and crosscutting lumber
the mills have badly undersized.

Two-by-fours are an inch and a half
by three. Six-inch trim is five
and a quarter. What would Jesus,

an honest carpenter, say about
such crass and cheap imprecision?
This fellow in maroon hoodie

works without complaint, ripping
boards to exact measure, scrapping
a lot of scrap. I’d like to rummage

through that barrel of wood-waste
and take home something to use.
He probably wouldn’t object,

but I’m too shy to ask. Edged
with tough black paint, new glass
looks crisp as ice on the lake.                                                      

Behind slabs of particle board
the restaurant hums as usual—
old gossip, fake news, politics

chatty as migrating birds.
I could treat myself to coffee,
but I’d rather watch this work:

the new framing emphatic enough
to affix a single perspective
that could force us all to agree.