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.

References:

[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

[3]https://www.visitomaha.com/listings/bob-kerrey-pedestrian-bridge/59364/

[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 colour of appearances

Driving West, Ed Sheeran on the radio singing songs he has written and I find that the leaves simply change colour through the course of his Afterglow. How very apt. I cannot think of a more perfect song for the changing hues of foliage, leaving Pennsylvania, the sun laying claim to the west, like a glittering exhibitionist .. and then Lake Erie with her choppy waters. A thought crosses my mind, an acronym I knew for the great Lakes – HOMES; never imagined I would one day see the water that makes up all of that E. Who knew vowels could contain so much water. Here, it is autumn and the leaves are beginning to hoard hue.

Stop the clocks, it's amazing
You should see the way the light dances off your head
A million colours of hazel, golden and red
Saturday morning is fading
The sun's reflected by the coffee in your hand
My eyes are caught in your gaze all over again (Ed Sheeran, Afterglow)

Further on in this song, Sheeran sings of Iron and Wine, the stage name of singer-songwriter Samuel “Sam” Ervin Beam whose songs are actually the stuff of poetry. I like Iron and Wine; that Ed Sheeran listens to him, is heartening. Perhaps it informs his own poetry and he speaks for both of them when he says “There’s no better way to get your point across than to put it to a beautiful song”. The sign made me smile.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Sam Beam too has sung songs of Autumn and I have excerpted some of his brilliant lyrical poetry, because I like it.

There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

(Passing Afternoon from the album 'Our Endless Numbered days' 2004)

It is easy to be inspired by Autumn, our consciousness of the colour of senescence, the passage of time through the hue of everything that the light makes delightful ..

Dappled moments caught in the weft 
of the carpet like splashes of colour
and I noticed a mimosa in the drink.
The outdoors drenched in fresh hues
of rain and light danced a myriad ways
to red. Yellowing canopies little
thirst for the rambunctious energy
of green so the grove shimmered
all shades through that late afternoon.
Now that I think about it, laid thick
onto those off coloured regrets were
spent sentiments, a dilution of resolve,
the death rattle of a fading of dreams.
What did we absorb to reflect so?
Simply a mirror, the land, sky, you, I ..

davina e. solomon,
September,
Pennsylvania 2021

Autumn is a time for thoughtful retreat. There is a reason why nature wills itself to sleep, it is simply the absence of light. I never experienced such a season in the tropics, life is brazenly bright in those places where people usually have sunny dispositions and write poetry to the monsoons and harvests, mostly.

Just in case you are wondering about the science and why we think we see leaves reflect green, researchers are struggling to explain this still. Chloroplasts use the energy of green (at least 90% of it) and there could be other structures of the leaf cell that help reflect this colour.

Given the noise of light that reaches the leaves, or even those shaded in the undergrowth, the leaf photosynthetic apparatus tries its utmost to absorb similar wavelengths of light and that which it receives at differing rates. The photosynthetic machinery has evolved ‘ not for maximum efficiency but rather for an optimally smooth and reliable output’. [1] The plant system aims for stability, not system efficiency which, I like to think, is the hallmark of the natural world. (I wrote earlier of the inefficiencies described in the wing -planform of the dragonfly).

Other pigments that accumulate in the leaf are also responsible for the multiple hues which we can observe in plants during Autumn. Yet, why we see colour the way we do still needs to be investigated further. Unlike in many other mammals, trichromacy evolved in humans, i.e. red, green, and blue colour vision, possibly for foraging, social signalling or through evolutionary constraint. [2]

I am intrigued by the change in colours and how the hues we observe, give meaning to nature and to life or perhaps, it is we who ascribe colour to situations in myriad ways. Even research hopes to explain this someday, until then, we have only poems.

References:

[1]~https://www.wired.com/story/why-are-plants-green-the-answer-might-work-on-any-planet/

[2]~https://aeon.co/ideas/the-red-and-green-specialists-why-human-colour-vision-is-so-odd

Cedar of God

They beheld the Cedar mountain, abode of the God,
Throne-seat of Irnini.
From the face of the mountain
The Cedars raise aloft their luxuriance.
Good is their shade,
full of delight.

                                           Epic of Gilgamesh [1]

There is a majestic Cedar of Lebanon in the Van Vleck Gardens at Montclair. This tree that could potentially attain a grand height of 140 feet and a diameter of 8 feet, has a rough scaly bark which is dark grey to blackish brown, marked by deep fissures. [2] The crown of this beauty, conical when young, now sports level branches. There were cones at the ends of the shoots when I saw it yesterday. 

I was quite disheartened to learn that these Cedars, native to Lebanon, barely survive in a vulnerable patch at Bsharri in Lebanon, in a copse a few hundred meters across, which in earlier times stretched hundreds of kilometers, as noted by Paleontologist  Mike Pole in 2016 [3]

Cedrus libani, a true Cedar that belongs to the family Pinaceae, is an evergreen, has medicinal uses and wood prized for its fine grain, attractive yellow colour, fragrance, exceptional durability and immunity to insect ravages [2].

In the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the Lebanon Mountain to cut these Cedars (which can be traced back to 3 BC). I am not sure how heroic such an act of deforestation was, which included the killing of the radiant guardian of the Cedar forest, the giant demon Humbaba, renowned for his terrifying, supernatural powers, whose severed head was then affixed to a cedar door and sent to the temple of Enlil, king of the gods [4].

Even if there are fewer Cedars of God at Bsharri [5], the tree survives as the national emblem of Lebanon and in the logo of Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier. It also graciously lent its support to Lebanon’s ‘Cedar Revolution’ of 2005 [2]

Widely used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens, I have always admired this magnificent specimen at Montclair and figured it deserved a poem.

Cedar of God

The grand soliloquy of a stately tree
is simply an intifada* of shoots and leaves.

The grenades explode someplace loamy 
or sandy clay, as scaly cones germinate 

the Earth, in a sparkling resistance against
the vagaries of once divine deforestation.

A Cedar in Lebanon disappears like time,
in a crown lost to Gilgamesh and then to

rainbow revolutions. Needles spiral forth
marking the epoch in severed limbs and souls

knowing nothing is lost to fate except the 
omnipotence of man. Simply immortal, is the tree.


Notes:

Intifada ~ Arabic intifāḍa, literally, the act of shaking off, rebellion, uprising (Merriam-Webster)

References:

[1]~http://www.fao.org/3/y9882e/y9882e13.htm

[2]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedrus_libani

[3]~http://www.mikepole.com/2016/01/23/lebanon-last-gasp-of-the-cedar-forests/

[4]~https://www.imj.org.il/en/collections/379263

[5]~https://foresttaenglish.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/the-cedar-of-lebanon-millennial-witness-of-the-desertization-of-the-earth/amp/