Martin Heslop

Under the Bridges

Under the Bridges


                            I’m growing under bridges. Looking up at bridges, looking through one bridge to the next. Different shapes making different shapes. Trying to name all the shapes but having to make up names for new shapes. Octohedragon, climbadecadon, redrangle. The bridges don’t look like they move, but they do. Cars and trucks and trains, people walking. Maybe dad’s truck, dad the meatman bringing meatfood from the meatfields to feed the meatpeople. Off you go dad. Off on your way home with the mustard, you call it, the money. On your way home with the mustard. Throw me a tenner meatdad, throw me a spoonful to smear on my meatskin, the sun’s coming out.


                             The sun behind the bridges causing all kinds of shadows. Skipping in the krisses and landing in the krosses, singing On a mountain stands a lady, who she is I do not know. But they speak rivervoice down here. They don’t get what I’m saying but they smile. I try and copy them, the quick letters that jump around as they speak, the sharp ones that finish words, lots of aa sounds. My meatvoice is round and slow, the middles of my words are long. I try tongue-noise and then throat-noise and then a mixture until it fits. Down here all the food is riverfood. I think of the meat, I think of fat and flesh and I look down at my arms and my legs. I’m a meatgirl. I’ll never bleed riverblood like the others, I only bleed meatblood.


                            Down here each bridge sings a different note in the wind, or the wind sings the note as it passes through, and each wind picks which three bridges it blows through. They make chords of all kinds. Sometimes a west summer wind can be a sad chord, called a d minor. Some riverpeople could catch the windchords, but there’s only one catcher left now, a riverwoman who holds concerts, opening the jars and letting them out in her own rhythm and order. She says she’ll teach me but she’s old. She counts her age by the same drop of water she says has passed her now eighty years, she says she can smell it for a month before it gets here. Everyone has one down here. I smell for my drop of water coming so I can start counting, it’ll come soon.


                             The riverwoman told me a story about two lovers who are separated by the Milky Way. Once a year the magpies make them a bridge of wings to cross. The Milky Way is called the Silver River. Here the birds aren’t riverbirds, they’re seabirds, and their wings are long and white. I could cross the river in three steps on those white wings. She read it from a book – through the varying shapes of the delicate clouds, the sad message of the shooting stars, a silent journey across the Milky Way, one meeting of the Cowherd and Weaver amidst the golden autumn wind and jade-glistening dew, eclipses the countless meetings in the mundane world. I asked her where the mundane world was, she said it might be somewhere upriver, but she didn’t know. When my drop of water comes I’ll follow it with the birds down to the sea. She says it roars.


One note on the poem is that in the fourth section, there is a quote in italics from an 11th century Chinese poem by the poet Qin Guan called ‘Meeting Across the Milky Way’. I’ve quoted it from a 2003 translation, the details are here:

Qiu, Xiaolong, Treasury of Chinese love poems (New York: Hippocrene Books, 2003), p. 133.


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