Notes in Chalk on a Ruined Bridge
When I first read the phrase man’s inhumanity
to man in the other world I found it elegant
but inadequate though I was moved by it
In the beginning the five of us were angry
then frightened—those sooty days still
days of hope and imagination
Hope and imagination
each one necessary to the other
that is what I thought
Then we had a sheepish sense someone would come
to feed us to organize our group
to herd us to a city with parks and fountains
For a time I would repeat my favorite words
and my mother’s choice unprintable ones
and my uncle’s forbidden ones
my children’s exuberant babble of wonder
none of the others shared my interest
but I would recite alphabetically for instance
my favorite adjectives all the birds
I could name authors from seven continents
for Antarctica I invented the author Per Mission
just to live in my mind in the gone world
Still most mornings
or what I estimated inside our noxious cloud
was morning
we’d wait together we were very hungry
small starving animals voles and mice with round ears
feared us as we feared them
because we’d lost confidence in ourselves
and shared no vocabulary to discuss
what we’d been severed from or where we were
 I lost one then two then more Latinate
or Indian-rooted words I remember liking
and slowly the names of invisible constellations
If there’d been wind they’d have been words
in the wind after some time the acidic air
ate them all then I spoke no more
because there was no one left no one to listen
no one but me to care and I don’t know if I care
every stone here at the bridge is coated
with the salt of my people’s unshed tears
what is caring anyway but clinging to hope
which also clung to me so under the broken stones
I could find this package of white chalk
each cylinder perfect whole and my dream
became not that we’d talk again
but that you would arrive and you would know
how to read my dead mongrel language
and you would read it my message before
the great rain erased it
before the trestle disintegrated
after I was no longer hungry or waiting—
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