A Brief History of Tunnels and Bridges


During the empty days that followed
the departure of the sirens
the woman walked along the dry corridor
of a long forgotten river

Picking her way through the scarred remains
of cottonwoods and arroyo willows
she followed the shadow of her former self,
itself a shadow

a plateau rose on the western bank
where the last of the great valley oaks
reached their mighty limbs towards
the hazy blue sky, conducting the final
movement for listening ghosts

her shadow danced in the washed light
upon the grasses; beneath the branches
she tread lightly – taking care to avoid
the ground-nesting wasps

she saw a faint impression of a road where,
from once-mute holes in the sun-baked earth,
an ancient sound issued forth–
the sound of breathing

she put her ear to an old spider hole
and heard, echoing in an invisualizable tunnel
between universes, a girl softly singing
“Bury me not on the lone prairie”

whipped by the reins of a blind charioteer,
a band of a thousand racing thunderheads
blackened the sky; the world wrested itself
from the prison of its form

her shadow jumped headlong into the hole
leaving her standing there, shadowless;
she herself felt the heavy pull and swayed
but remained fixed, unmovable

her grief was of a different matter, dark and exotic;
she grew strong as a taproot
standing against the flow of gravity’s river
which emptied into who knew where

the vast landscape upheaved, moving
towards the hole in the hardpan–

the oaks, the cottonwoods and willows
the heat-red rocks of a bone-dry river
the salmon carcasses and hubcaps
the ruminant skulls and beer cans
the fishing lines and mugworts
the farm shacks and rusted pumpjacks
the gypsum and shell hash
even the mighty dams, imperial and proud
–still hoarding their fetid puddles–
shook their very foundations while the
the terrible pumps spun backwards;
the highways began to flow
the windmills broke free and flew in
flocks like whirling white seabirds towards
the hole in the hardpan–
a spacetime door in the floor–
a tunnel of light through darkness

While the world disappeared
drained into a hardpan hole
it was the woman’s sad fate
to stay where the oak woodland
and the river and the mountains
where scrub jays, thrushes and warblers
where the possums and brush rabbits
were not

kneeling upon the emptying sands
she reached into the hole and felt
the warmth of a small hand
she pulled the girl to her feet and
saw, dimly, her long-forgotten self

into the woman’s hands, the girl
placed her own in one; in the other
for all that had been taken,
a single acorn was offered in return


In the absence of things
the absence of light was unnoticeable
and the woman understood
more clearly this time
that the touch of light upon
the objects of the world
-at once a brutal blow and gentle brush–
was the story of a life itself

With the small hand in hers,
in trembling darkness, she asked the girl–
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Walking, skipping, they stirred up tiny specks of
curious luminescent dust, which glowed
such as the lights she had seen in the sand
on a distant nighttime beach

Slowly the shape of a bridge
assembled itself before her straining eyes
But she could distinguish neither
end nor beginning, but only great depth

“What does the bridge cross?”
but she knew a Chasm of Grief
lie below, and she dared never look down
into the black abyss of unmaking

there, the atoms grieved
for having been part of a being
larger then themselves, such as the player
grieves when the curtain closes

Knowlingly, the girl who was also herself
sang the song of small stars who long
in their lonely brilliance, to dance
in the dappled sunlight upon an autumn glade

“Oh bury me not on the lone prairie
where the coyotes wail and the wind blows free–
And when I die don’t bury me
beneath the Western sky on the lone prairie.”


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