"It is so much like a beach after all
Where you stand and think of going no further."
Reflections on a poem bolted to a steel bridge: a photo journey.
The Whitney Bridge in Minneapolis crosses sixteen noisy lanes of traffic. A walking bridge, it serves as the platform for a John Ashbery poem that stretches across its entire length in 4-inch letters on high, steel beams.
The experience of reading the poem while walking across a 16-lane expressway of speeding traffic is a total mind/body/spirit experience. There is no armchair reading of this poem; to read the next line, you have to walk a bit further on the bridge while 18-wheelers, cars, and trucks barrel under you, stirring the air with their speed and vibrating the bridge under your feet. There is diesel in the air, and oil, and the sun is shining anyway. The poem sits there through the seasons, immovable above the rivers of motion and sound that pass below.
Since the poem is written on the right and left sides, walkers get the pleasure of reading the poem twice: once when they cross, and once when they return. By design, the middle line of the poem meets in the center, reading on both sides of the bridge:
It is fair to be crossing,
to have crossed
This poem, which John Ashbery was commissioned to write specifically for this bridge, is shown below in its entirety, along with these photos that I snapped.
And now I cannot remember
How I would have had it.
It is not a conduit (confluence?)
But a place.
The place, of movement and an order.
The place of old order.
But the tail end of the movement is new,
Driving us to say what we are thinking.
It is so much like a beach after all
Where you stand and think of going no further.
And it is good when you get to no further.
It is like a reason that picks you up
And places you where you always wanted
It is fair to be crossing, to have crossed.
Then there is no promise in the other.
Here it is.
Steel and air, a mottled presence,
Small panacea and lucky for us.
And then it got very cool.