'Bridges' — a poem for spring

(Inspired by "Birches," with apologies to Robert Frost)

May 08, 2011|By Dan Rodricks

(The following is inspired by "Birches," with apologies to Robert Frost.)

When I see teenagers to the left and right

In the woods by the river off Pulaski Highway,

I like to think they're about to embrace the spring.

Spring brings them out of school, out of their clothes

And into the woods by the river. I saw them,

boys in shorts, girls in bikinis, Easter Monday,

After a rain, in the sun, heading for the river.

Soon the sun's warmth made them shed their shirts

And into the Gunpowder they went, beneath a bridge.

Such giggles and squeals jarred the ear;

You'd think they'd never before known such joy.

Some smoked pot as they hiked to the river,

Others gabbed and giggled 'til they saw me.

But I was going to say when Truth broke in

With all her matter-of-fact about the marijuana

(Now am I free to be poetical?):

There was one boy in the group, the largest of all,

A boy about the size of a cow,

Whose desired play was what he found himself,

And what he found was the railroad bridge,

Steel girders and rivets above the river.

He climbed into the bridge's rusted trusses

We watched with wonder about his intentions.

Spring was bursting out, eighty degrees or more.

Teenagers waded and splashed in the river,

The river the nearest water they could find.

Spanish-speaking families had come out, too.

Little parties along the river by afternoon,

Folding chairs and coolers of beer.

But this one boy — rotund, wrapped in a tee —

He climbed into the girders of the railroad bridge

Thirty feet, maybe thirty-five feet above the river.

His friend below provided instruction:

"Further out for the deepest part!" he yelled,

And pointed to the river's spooky trough.

The friend on the bank knew all there was

To know about not launching above the shallows

And so not breaking vital vertebrae in the leap.

The big one suddenly stepped off, feet first, with a swish,

Gripping his knees, down through the air to the water,

And making a splash like a howitzer blast

On the Normandy Beach landing.

So was I once myself a jumper off bridges.

But I dream not of going back to be.

You won't find this jump on my bucket list.

It's frightening and bracing, but foolish and dangerous,

And I doubt my group plan will cover it.

But I was going to say when Truth broke in

With all matter-of-fact about age and insurance

(May I continue to be poetical?),

I should prefer to fish in rivers, not swim,

Which is why I went out to the Gunpowder,

Taking a leap there might be solitude there.

And, of course, the place was teeming with teens

Half-naked and happy in the sun and flowing water,

Cannon-balling off the CSX bridge, scaring the shad.

I'd like to get away from Pulaski Highway awhile

And then come back to the river and begin over,

When the cannon-balling cowboy is not there,

And the shad are running through quiet currents.

May no fate willfully misunderstand me:

Earth's the right place for spring —

Especially if you're a teenager just busting out of class,

Eager to take scary leaps or dive into life,

Making big splashes so all plus God know you're there.

But that scares the shad and makes it tough to fish.

So I'll reel up my line and come back another day.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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