Look at this this river and this bridge.
|Dante and Virgil by Gustave Doré|
over water dividing one littered bank from another.
So tell, me, Alighieri, which way to the souls,
which way to the deep of this place?
Even in my self-pity I've found no door to hell;
in my hope no Beatrice beyond.
My only stygian vision here was a catfish once:
huge and pale it widened its mouth
to the poisoned stream and slipped beneath
Take my hand and join me on this concrete slab,
not that old bridge of rust and rivets I crossed
as a boy. That ole one might have led somewhere.
You could listen to its groan, how it measured
weight of all who passed. Tonight all traffic
memory, free of gravity, leaving no trace.
Dante, in your exile among the hills of Italy,
living on the salty bread of charity,
could you imagine this traffic, this longing to go
anywhere and quickly, racing there in complete freedom?
These cars' lanterns are the only ghosts I know.
Am I lucky or not? No one once among the living or dead
has pulled me aside for more than a photo I.D.
Not one of them has had the flare of Hades in the eye
and said, "I know your accent has it true metallic birth
in the White River's northern valley, where Stony Creek's
mouth presses to it. You come from that miller's town
of Noblesville. Pity me. Remember me to the living!"
Believe me when I tell you I savor my self-pity, that
I hold the poverty of my time and place deep in my chest.
I hold it there like an arrow nicking away at my heart.
I ask you, and please tell me "yes,"
below the italianate masonry nearby downtown,
among the pillars of the glassy 1990s county facility,
upon the lawns over there covered with gutted cars
and hogs of poured concrete, maybe my city's
less imagined, less crafted than Florence, but isn't it
as acutely dreamed? Don't the headlights hunt
as longingly across this bridge as the souls you tracked
winding their ways from the sea toward God?
I won't keep you. Some need calls you to heaven
and me to Tenth Street. Your work is never done,
putting the stars in their proper places,
far above the renovation and wreckage of America, the shadows
where streetlight burn into morning.