The Swinging Bridge

Poem by Joseph Bathanti

(for Sierra)

 

A mile above earth, the Swinging

Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

 

perches perfectly calibrated –

by guy, cable and girder –

 

to lord the tourist over

the Manichean abyss.

 

Faith is paramount.

I take my place at the threshold

 

of planks, stretching the span

like a bridal crash.

 

Ahead of me, queued

on the bridge, sway three nuns,

 

the tripartite soul, in tandem.

My schoolboy bane, I have made a life

 

cursing them. When I was brave

enough to raise my hand in Catechism,

 

and ask why God had allowed Eve

to be tempted by the serpent –

 

knowing as He had, omnipotent,

the ghastly result – the sisters spat,

 

“It’s a mystery.” And that was that.

Another heretical crack

 

about free will versus determinism

would fetch me a beating –

 

no mystery at all, but causal certainty.

If the bridge is about to collapse –

 

the way time in His economy collapses

into past, present and future simultaneously –

 

God already knows.

The bridge has, in effect, already begun its plummet.

 

The nuns are clearly a sign –

that I should follow in the odor of sanctity

 

or turn and run like hell.

A Jesuit in frock coat and berretta,

 

black scarred orthopedic shoes,

documents with a black digital

 

camera the nuns’ final steps.

He smells of frankincense.

 

His back is to me.

He won’t set foot on the bridge.

 

In the glorious gale, their wimples blow.

Gargantuan rosaries belt them,

 

clicking like God’s dentures.

A little blonde girl in sunglasses,

 

smiling angelically,

stares straight at me.

 

In the distance, on his craggy

hairless peak, Grandfather,

 

like Jehovah, dozes in grave repose,

antediluvian chin chiseled

 

on His chest, senescent beard

rimed with the final snow

 

of the new equinox.

6,000 feet below

 

slides the valley of Purgatory.

These are the oldest mountains on earth.