A bridge over the Missouri

With time, we can learn to coexist with the river, a River of Hope..

George Fitch, in a delightful essay1 written for The American Magazine in 1906-07 pondered thus on the rationale of alluvial soil as behind the peculiarities of the river Missouri: “Does it explain the thousand mysterious eddies , the turbulence that boils out of the river like an eruption or the giant hand that clutches the fisher boats from below and draws them down? Does it explain what makes the river a mighty flood in South Dakota and a miserable trickle at Omaha ? Can it diagnose that queer, eerie half murmur, half chuckle with which the water goes about its work of destruction ? Does it account for the innate deviltry of a stream that will sleep quietly while a railroad builds a million dollar bridge over it and will then move over and flow around one end of the bridge ; and then, when another million dollar bridge has been built to please it , gets quietly up and moves back to its old channel in perfect content ?

Well, it is a River of Hope that flows beneath the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge between Council Bluffs in Iowa and Omaha in Nebraska, or so they say. The area around is corralled within neat clean lines embossed in manicured gardens and cycling paths, the same land carved by the forceful Missouri overseen now through the stony gaze of a contemplative blue troll. The river too, appears ponderously still in its aura of blue and dark, struck by the glitter of the times.

Omar punctuates here the imagination of men or of mine, adds poetry to twilight simply as the evening crawls to the thought of a song I once knew and I wonder if perched on a rock, he too is thinking the same..

Some days I don't know if I am wrong or right
Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear
'Cause though the truth may vary this
ship will carry our
bodies safe to shore
Don't listen to a word I say
The screams all sound the same
And though the truth may vary this
ship will carry our
bodies safe to shore".

Verse from 'Little Talks' by Of Monsters And Men

It is actually the river that provokes a stream of consciousness, our poetic abstractions, our dependable realities, enshrined here in a troll musing the sunset, having arrived home under a remarkable bridge, while finding friends through kindness and openness as per the brochure. Creative illusion I find, is very much like these spaces where the surreal meets the tangible. What is it, if not bizarre, a liquid form which engraves thus in its ebb and flow the landscape in a mood board, and the mind conjures poetry as evocative as a bridge spanning its snaking path. I am not surprised that such a structure should arise at this very spot ornamented in gardens and mascots of blue trolls, like a collective creative riposte to the untameable Missouri.

I imagine what trajectory my writing should take today; would it like a bridge staple two states together or loop around akin to a river and divide them? I think of lines from Jericho Brown’s poem, Crossing .. “The water is one thing, and one thing for miles. The water is one thing, making this bridge Built over the water another.”

Much like poetry is this ‘bridge and water’ symbiosis, where words as viscous and malleable spark a river flow through language the rigidity of a pathway that smiles across it, rising just the same on one side of the day 2

It is this cable-stayed footbridge that provokes a seamless dusk with an infusion of colour through its programmable controls. Walking past the chill of Iowa into the cold of Nebraska simply involves crossing a line etched in the middle of it. I am taken up in its weightlessness, these darkening lights in all shades of November, in colours of the poetic imaginings of those that designed this pathway or made a case for it.

The bridge was named after former Nebraska Senator Robert ‘Bob’ Kerrey, who secured $17 million of federal funding for it in 2000; he was inspired by his own Back to the River efforts3. Was there not poetry in that endeavour, a creative swashbuckling of sorts over rivers. Bridges such as these change the skyline, the economy and corral people along specific pathways, like the 150 miles of nature trails in the area.

And then as George Fitch wrote, way back in 1906-07, “There are rivers of all lengths and sizes and of all degrees of wetness . There are rivers with all sorts of peculiarities and with widely varying claims to fame . But there is only one river with a personality , habits , dissipations , a sense of humor and a woman’s caprice; a river that goes traveling sidewise , that interferes in politics , rearranges geography and dabbles in real estate ; a river that plays hide and seek with you today and tomorrow follows you around like a pet dog with a dynamite cracker tied to its tail . That river is the Missouri .”

The Missouri is the longest and possibly the hungriest4 river in North America, arising in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, flowing east and south for 2,341 miles before its confluence with the Mississippi River, north of St. Louis in its namesake state of Missouri

There is a bit of the apocryphal in writing poetry for rivers that are wild and unpredictable; a poem about such an unsteady thing can never be true at any given point in time but laying a footpath over the Missouri, that simply exists for itself and yet is a bridge after all is actually true. Such a strange and contrived thing sports a dividing line between states, etched now in concrete. Yet, I anchor this poem in this bridge which is also a poem about a river or perhaps about love as it exists in a river flow or perhaps of the intractability of our ideas of love which span bridges across the raging ephemeral. And still, the river lives on like glow, mirroring the sky.

To the Missouri

Swiftly River you sculpt the banks of divided lands
I ask: So, what of love ? I sense you jest

in bubbles and heave to provoke perhaps
the silted shallows, simply converging as rivers do

or diverging as rivers do, fluid as a perspective
in Omaha, now the passage of oracle in longest river

My question dissolved is fluidly rhetorical
in a molten ebb and flow, while your swollen whisper of riparian name

lends symbolism to quaint maps
There as River X or River Y -

you chart course in colour, a snaking measure
whence you were birthed someplace

Will you die elsewhere, River? For marked and mapped
in the minds of men are their abrupt beginnings and hasty ends

to water that hurtles for Oceans another oblivion
Dammed, River, you swell like common rage then

flood like grief, even if life began in falling
to an ambitious puddle someplace cold

We think of this here, River. We think of where you become
River so deeply deathly ponderous,

our thoughts can dive, float, get wet, wet,
wet and drown I laugh at this now,

River, for we almost drowned in drought
in a smidgen of tepid water, then spoke

in tongues delirious on ghosts Those shallows
were death traps and the slime on rocks, a trait

of stone jaggedly cowering near the edge
of dry indecision How deep can be deep?

How deep is a poem How deeply can you
perceive a confluence of surly suppositions

that meld like water beneath an imaginary line
blurring Nebraska from Iowa

Ne - bras - ka

I - o - wa

lips kissing a syllabic twist around our tongues
like the silt you sashay into the void

We care for language that makes folks crimp
a duchenne smile of a bridge that spans

your glistening meander making us walk
They call you the Missouri or at least

some part of you like they call some part
of everything Love.


[1] Page 637, The Missouri River, George Fitch, The American Magazine, Volume LXIII November 1906 to April 1907

[2] Line 6, Crossing, The Tradition by Jericho Brown, Copper Canyon Press


[4] {It is the hungriest river ever created . It is eating all the time – eating yellow clay banks and cornfields , eighty acres at a mouthful; winding up its banquet with a truck garden and picking its teeth with the timbers of a big red barn . Its yearly menu is ten thousand acres of good, rich farming land , several miles of railroad , a few hundred houses , a forest or two and uncounted miles of sandbars} ~ Pages 637-638, The Missouri by George Fitch

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