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

The nacre of detachment in weighing anchor

In Cape May, a rusted anchor and driftwood

I took the photo along a street in Cape May the other day. It was what sparked this poem for Mental Health Awareness Month. According to Psychology, many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to involve ruminating thoughts and this poem is for a fresh perspective on rumination and overthinking.

Is it that we consider some mental proclivities as disorders to be fixed, rather than see them as a healing process, like a fever for example; ruminating on wounds, hurts, anxieties appears to be normal, for some more than others, it can seem an endless obsession. It isn’t easy to seek to be understood in a world where time and attention are scarce, it’s also dangerous to be vulnerable where society is given to judgement and quick fixes to urge one back onto the grindstone.

Our collective lack of supportive empathy, loss of belief in self healing, a pill to fix everything and the inability to let people see their anxieties or sorrows as something to be experienced for a while and not incessantly seek escape from, is a bit sad in a way. Our interventions too sometimes seem prescriptive, so also do our cures for symptomatic relief. On this note, it might be interesting to know that ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), is still being used to treat depression and mood disorders in the US.

I didn’t wish to ramble away but thought to share John Read’s article advocating against electroshock therapy or electroconvulsive therapy, which is still a mainstay of psychiatry. I never knew until I read this essay [1] a couple of months ago and felt it merited a mention given that it is mental health awareness month. I would like to quote from it the documented experience of the Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was one of the first to use electricity to induce seizures in patients in the 1930s:

His first human subject was a 39-year-old engineer from Milan, whom the police found wandering around a Rome train station in a confused state. When the first electric shock failed to produce the desired convulsion, Cerletti and his assistant discussed whether to administer a more powerful shock. Cerletti reported: All at once, the patient, who evidently had been following our conversation, said clearly and solemnly, without his usual gibberish: ‘Not another one! It’s deadly!’ Cerletti proceeded anyway, in the first of the millions of instances that were to follow, and which continue today, of people being given this treatment despite clearly stating they don’t want it.

There is something about this that bothers me immensely and I would be concerned if it didn’t bother you dear reader. A case of confused wandering and gibberish could entail ECT in the 1930s, then we have something to think about, if in our haste to pathologise human behaviour, we have stopped to listen to what the psyche demands, in our hurry to fix it, even through such horrific interventions. It is as if we are afraid of being left alone in our thoughts, afraid of our inner voice, constantly seeking that we are, to silence it.

I am a bit of a serial ruminator and a gopher of sorts that will dig out the entire garden to find meaning in soil, ah well, compost maybe. I see ruminating as a healing process mostly, debilitating at times but similar to the formation of pearls if it transmutes into something creative. Engaging with passion (some may read this as obsession) in a creative enterprise, appears to be a defense mechanism, like layering a foreign substance in nacre to form a pearl, over a lengthy period of time. There are so many ways of mitigating pain or distress or anxieties, even an oyster has a lesson for us perhaps.

In the nausea of yesterday's regrets

that knocks the wind out of our sails and they say,

"Submit to the dhow, be resigned to the sea."

Memories are grains of sand that strode over

barnacles, oysters, as salt water baptised

rocky shores to spirit within a clam soul

the 'forever itch'. Looping recollections

of schoolyard bullies unearthing every time

the solar lantern crashed the limiting horizons

of a violated dusk, darkly helpless

to aphorisms of a fiery sun,

a compassionate moon or retreating waves.

Conchiolin layers nucleated sorrows

in luminous nacre of a lyrical

immunity, a concentric array of

soft healing words accreting around old hurt

rounding edges off aragonite bruises,

to finally spit pearls, raise anchor, set sail.

The memory of feeling nauseated on a dhow comes from Zanzibar. The waters were very choppy. The dhow keeper told me then, not to fight it. He asked me to lie down and become one with the movement, it turned out to be my lesson for ‘going with the flow’.

This is an attempt at a hendecasyllabic poem, where each metrical line consists of 11 syllables [2]




Yodeling philosophy

He laughs, country songs are simply coffee 
heartbreaks, the cloying of sugar love ...

She thinks Hank Williams is the sound of
leaving Virginia, leaving Maryland, leaving
Delaware to board the Lewes Ferry

No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

He yodels philosophy like she almost
always smiles until the poetry rolls off
her fingers and  wrinkles the sea

The water sashays under grey nimbus.
He knots time into a pretzel and smiles
at the spicy honey mustard and ketchup
she pours on a plate. He knows
she hates ketchup.She knows, he knows ...

She points to the lighthouses, so many
line the sea struck hour like beacon guides,

or sirens that save from the sea, that's simply
a viscous burial for rusted feelings,the foam of imaginings.

This boat isn't exhausted yet and she floats
to Cape May on a whimsy, a breeze.

Yodeling philosophy:

Hank Williams singing I will never get out of this world alive

It was Hank Williams and Patsy Cline  all the way to Cape May. There’s nothing like country music to still you into the moment and everything is as it seems, as it is meant to be. The foam of the sea is simply that, what the pandemic ushered in, battles with the ephemeral shadowy past. We cannot make sense of ghosts and the demoniacal of a virus, so we write stories to them, wear masks, but the sea will swallow the foam.

It was delightful this morning, we cycled through the historic district and my vintage and creaky  hotel bicycle had no handle brakes. It was the thrill of childhood once more and I almost fell off laughing at that thing yodeling like Hank Williams 🙂

The Sea Within

Introspection ~ riddled in holes
In that abysmal depth 
rests abject verse, stuttering
in profound exhaustion
of meaning. The hull
was riddled in holes
of a debilitating
and she is simply
a sunken vessel,
now, sea within a sea,
someplace the spirits
of the deep find
passageway through a once
air filled hold and
portholes of existence
lining those catacombs
of a saline poetry.

We were at the Assateague Island National Seashore last evening and it was the sound of the sea perhaps or the tiredness of an otherwise lovely day, I thought of sunken ships and also of the dead tree riddled in holes that I took a photo of, at Fort Lee Historic Park. It all came together in a poem that I wish to dedicate to mental health awareness month in the US.

Old memories good and bad are like sea creatures that move through the sunken Titanic of our minds. There is no forgiveness nor forgetting, just a momentary watery disillusionment knowing that the vessel isn’t contained, except in the arms of the sea. It is great to be a ship which sails yet be aware, that the ability to bob above consciousness is available to mere flotsam and jetsam too. Some vessels sail to fish food, others to the destruction of war or the appropriation of conquests, some are simply ambition of harnessing the naturally buoyant, some are ghost ships. There are all kinds up there and down here. Making peace with the darkness of the depths opens ones eyes to the beauty of seeing a buried universe, differently. No one but oneself in the amnion of Gaia, entombed or enwombed, a matter of perspective, I think the illusion lies in floating on murky depths. An eclipse brings about an adjustment of vision to actually see what the light blinded out for a couple of years, melding into the pandemic.

We can’t hope that this world will be anything than it actually is but we can choose to swim or float where we may and hope we never encounter often, that which may be a dangerous lesson.

Given that it is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US, I thought also to share this essay I received at Aeon today. It is about the warped self, on how social media makes us feel terrible about who we really are. It discusses aspects researched in Neuroscience and how the knowledge can be used in an empowering way.

On my playlist:

Meu amor sem Aranjuez by Dulce Pontes. The song seems written for the sea like most Portuguese fados are. Perhaps the sea exists for fados 🙂

Rocky Rose Trails

Rocky Rose is a shade of Essie nail colour. I happened to notice the name after I painted my nails and thought it could spark a poem. The walk was through the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, famous for its large variety of animals, birds as well as its ponies. The Refuge is 14,000 acres, primarily located in the Virginia half of the Assateague Island. Only about 3% is located on the Maryland side of the island.

A morning feels like walking 
no place on a wildlife loop,
marked for a mind in fetters
under a monstrous wind,
through trees having
a verdant conversation in a crowd.
The sea breeze always finds you, 
crawls under your windcheater,
in chilly clairvoyance
of a rain to come in that
copse of corpses that shed
phosphorescence in a deciduous sorrow.
She sighs a soft breeze 
through the trail.
It finds refuge over a mudflat
like a bated breath, halting for succour
in a rhinestone moon.
When the water returns, it will shimmer

of passions she painted
on her nails, a hue
of rocky rose, a shade more modest
than the ponies of Chincoteague
that gallop away on sand, hooved
in pungent ungulate hearts.

Sometimes, I am not sure if it is the world that is so lacking in love or it is the vacuum within that desires, incessantly. Our self worth is tied to our abilities, out accomplishments, our possessions, our self sacrifice, our service, our purpose, and there is never enough even for a wooded marshland, with trees and grasses constantly clambering for space and I enjoyed the tussle 🙂 My nail colour in fact, made me supremely happy 😇

Neptune’s mists

This poem was seeded a while earlier, it was the earthworms on the garden path that inspired it, having crawled out of the waterlogged grass. It had rained prior and they placed themselves in harm’s way,  a sign we would  interpret as foolish (given the worm carcasses all over) and they would consider survival, crossing those great divides between the edges of a winding path.

Seasonal exhalation of Neptune's mists / and hazy corruptions mar a loamy sequester / A twelfth house of sorrow / those sinuous burrows permeating clay thought / tortuous tunnelling  of annelid aspirations // 

Earth swallowed rain / spiriting a life vitality from the blanketing comfort of flooded blossoms / Engraved on a path by the trample of feet, massacre of an exodus / Martyrs to tyrants /  clearly, mist is love or hate or mishap //

Compassion buoys pensive thought or a floating reflection / There are puddles of clumped rain, streaks of blemished sun / Blossoms and buds / These euphemisms of Spring, but trees in a mating game / Summer will bring tender warmth to soft mud, clear dreams and sweet healing //