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Timeline to a Bridge

4:07 A.M.
The note on the kitchen table assures her that he’s gone
to buy bread and milk for the coming day.  The last
printed words say he’ll be careful and that he loves her:
they are probably true.
4:11 A.M.
At the corner station he fills the tank and asks for change
to use the automated wash.  He decides against a second pass
and the special hot wax.
In a blur of blues, cleansing brushes pummel the windows
as he scrawls a second note: we are meant to be unsure
of what is written here.
4:37 A.M.
From the break-down lane, he imagines the bay’s salty embrace
with distant cities; a big truck’s rumbling spreads through him
like a convulsive shiver.  The bridge is arresting tonight.
4:39 A.M.
There have been women, of course, but mostly he imagines
the men who came here before him—those who didn’t hesitate
to let the late-September currents do what they would
with masculine sorrow.  He questions if there was enough time
for thoughts of children, enough balance for consideration
of legacy, judgment and shame.  
4:41 A.M.
The door is still open; the engine is still running; and soon
his family will wake.
The arches of his naked feet form to the final rail—
it's less significant and higher than he remembers.
As he teeters, expertly—accepting the odds
in the toss of a coin—paradigms flip; universes
pause to see which promises he’ll keep.

15 Mar 07

Rated 8.5 (8.5) by 2 users.
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I think this is a good poem. It keeps to a main theme, it has a novel structure and it definitely made me want to keep reading, then read again. I'm glad you're posting here.

There are weaker points to the poem, of course. ll12-14 feel a bit to contrived, a bit self-conscious in addressing the reader. In particular, the ellipses in l14 are just too much. Frankly, the same effect (of not knowing what's in the note) would be far more gracefully achieved simply by cutting off and endstopping l12 at "second note". We would know he wrote another note, and not know what it was. Same effect, but not so blatant. That's just a suggestion, but I hope you'll consider.

I think ll20-25 are a bit borderline themselves; in that one section, it stops being personal and close, and starts being a really distanced, flat statement. It doesn't feel appropriate for the feelings that are stated there. Perhaps you could reconsider how you phrase his thoughts there? "Masculine sirrow" in particular feels out of place and more like authorial opinion than character's voice.

The last two lines trouble me a bit... "paradigms flip" especially. It's a very clinical way to put a climactic moment. A bit like stating the temperature during a volcanic eruption; it tells you what's going on, but doesn't express the enormity. I do like "universes pause", though.

Aside from those things, I like this a lot. I think perhaps the title could be a bit more grabbing, or a litte more evocative of the poem rather than a description of it, but that's pretty much it. Thanks for sharing.
 — dandy

Is this a repost?  I thought there were some lengthy comments on this before.
 — Isabelle5

Lines 12-13 are meant to give an overall double meaning, but your point is well taken and so I will give it some more thought.  Also, the several lines, including 12, are broken to give double meanings and/or a sense of foreboding—See the ends of 2, 3, 7, 8, (11’s beginning) and 12 for the most obvious examples.

The ellipsis is not used in the common way.  In this case it’s used (appropriately) as an indication of missing text—notice the relatively large time lapse.  Maybe I’ll add more dots to avoid confusion.

Nowhere in this poem is the protagonist given a voice; it’s narrative throughout, if the reader gets close, it’s through sympathy or empathy; I would suggest that, for some reason, your sympathy for the character wavered at that point.  I’m confident that many other’s will not.  Also, what is more personal than a person’s ponderings about how and whether to die?   The antiquity of masculine sorrow was addressed by Robert Bly in a brilliant prologue to several poems on that subject; that’s the very essence, the origin and reason for this poem.  I’d most likely throw this entire poem on the trash heap before I’d change that part.

Definition #3 of paradigm, the one I have used here, is not given in some dictionaries, so for the sake of convenience I’ve cut and pasted from Google.

par•a•digm  (pār'ə-dīm', -dĭm')    
1. One that serves as a pattern or model.
2. A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical   categories: the paradigm of an irregular verb.
3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.
—Synonyms 2. mold, standard; ideal, paragon, touchstone.

The idea is that when facing death, a person’s beliefs about what it means to live can change in that instant; from a human perspective, it doesn’t get more enormous than that.  I also like the way the first and most common pronunciation of the word can remind the reader of a dime—goes with the flip of a coin.

On the surface it does appear that the title in on the mundane side, but it also is meant to convey a double meaning: a bridge can be more than a physical span.

I’ve spewed a lot of words in the defense of my choices because I think that’s how we grow as writers; I want you to know what my thought processes are—right or wrong.  And I will continue to want to know and be appreciative of yours as well.

 — wily

The was very intriguing, but is this poetry? It must be a new form of it. I enjoyed this piece of work though. Very different from what I'm used to.
 — RevNathaniel

THanks for your response, Wily. I appreciate you wanting me to understand your choices throughout the poem.

My only response to most of your comments is that I didn't base my feelings on a lack of understanding. I certainly realized the meaning and significance of paradigms, enjambed lines, your time lapse, the double meanings and the entire questioning aspect of ll20-25. I understood those things; I merely thought they were awkward compared to the rest.

That said, a device (like the ellipses, for example), is only useful as long as it works, not how clever it is. Or for another, you may like the term "masculine sorrow" and it may be an allusion to another's work, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it works in this. I certainly realize (and heartily encourage) that you may be trying new techniques and styles, but I hope you don't mistake novelty for grace.

In any case, none of that above is meant to be negative, so I hope you don't take it as such. I do very much enjoy this poem; I'll be looking forward to more of yours. Ta-
 — dandy

I certainly did not mean to insult your poetic intelligence, dandy.  
 — wily

No worries, Wily. You seem a smart fellow, and dedicated to your work. Always nice to have someone like you on the site :)
 — dandy

Sorry I overlooked your comment, RevNathaniel.   Is it poetry?  I think so, but it depends on who you ask and which definition they prefer to use.  

Thanks for reading.
 — wily

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