The Bridges of Love

July 18, 1995|By CARL POHLNER Jr.

"The Bridges of Madison County'' got me wondering why covered bridges were covered, and it got me thinking about bridges and love. I was wondering what the song ''Bridge Over Troubled Water'' would have sounded like if it were a more haiku-like piece called ''Stone Bridge Over Still Water with Small Tranquil Fish.''

I admit it sounds more like the title of a Dali painting (especially if the fish were reading books or winding melted watches), but I asked an acquaintance what he thought and he said that although he never met a haiku he didn't like, he wouldn't want to try to sing one.

I think the image of the bridge defines love better than the traditional image of two becoming one.

People who have been in love long enough that they no longer talk about love for fear of trivializing it -- or who fear it might turn to powder if they poke at it too much -- might relate more to love being an ongoing bridging between two separate and intact individuals -- with the type of bridge ever changing and the images in the scene ever shifting.

The stolid, restive image of the heavy stone bridge balanced ponderously against still, shallow waters is just one image of love that floats into my imagination.

My 1942 Britannica opens its old-style fuddy-duddy essay on bridges by speaking of gulfs instead of bridges. It observes significantly that ''the function of a bridge may be described as the starting of a stream of human traffic hitherto impossible; the surmounting of a barrier, the linking up of two worlds divided by a gulf.''

Bridges do not deny or eliminate gulfs; they acknowledge them and span them.

Throughout the years my wife and I have labored at making the complex grid work for massive iron cantilever bridges; we have crawled for fear of heights on precipitous stone viaducts in mountain passes; we have struggled wet-faced on grass-rope bridges over gushing torrents. On stormy nights we have pitched up and down on pontoon bridges by blistering lightning light.

In springs and summers we have dallied on bridges lined with small shops, on stone arched bridges in the rain, and we have waited hours, days and months on drawbridges, jack-knife and elevator bridges.

For making bridges we have felled trees over trout streams; we have tied knots in ropes; we have carried bricks, hauled steel girders and bolts with heads the size of melons.

We have carried crying children with us in wheelbarrows loaded with concrete, sand, wrenches, torches.

We have built small wooden bridges over streams and had picnics where the paths lead.

We have built bridges that rival the bay bridge arced in the current and running for miles, and we have picked our way across flooded yards on plank-and-block bridges.

We have built arch span bridges over dizzying gorges and sent heavy freight over them.

In our dreams suspension bridges have exploded around us like streamers as deep ships' horns blow. Bridges have revolved around our heads like picture-book halos over the heads of characters in holy pursuits, and trolls have exploited us on the road of life with the familiar scam of ''You pay $2 this way but you don't have to pay when you come back.''

On mornings, sleek steel bridges have taken to the air and winged around us like prehistoric birds of sweeping proportion.

Bridges have folded and unfolded melodically like accordions (playing perhaps a rousing chorus of ''Stone Bridge Over Still Water with Small Tranquil Fish'').

And sometimes it is a mild day in the real world where a stone bridge with a single arch is met by woods at either side, where we can pause for no reason -- after a quick check for trolls -- but to look for fish.

Our old Britannica also astutely observes that ''the history of all old bridges which have survived complete is one of almost continuous repair.'' This thought is related to why covered bridges are covered -- to keep the structures out of the weather. Nothing at all to do with charm, unless that's the reason you choose to build one.

A collection of Carl Pohlner's published essays, ''A Feather Short of Flying,'' is available through local bookstores.

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