Queens Borough Bridge
Remember how plentiful they seemed;
the flounder we fished for
with string we wound
around the crook of our finger?
We could feel their breath pulse
first in the line before the pull.
The sun high, the ocean so still
until we’d hear the lap
of waves along the boat again.
Then some wind would cut
through the salty iodine air
carrying the earthy fume of oak;
and it was fall sending us notice.
Then we would enter
the long drift of hours
where a bell rang and became years.
Two nights ago I walked
the long span of the Queensborough Bridge
attempting to lengthen the day
asking the sort of questions
that begin with why
and get no answers,
just the sound of traffic
under towering arches.
Down below, at the edge
of the East River
with its coiled eddies,
in the sheen of park light,
I saw a boy and a girl
climb an industrial fence,
he with a pole,
she with a net made from
shirt hanger and panty hose.
These two, who could have
easily been falling asleep
on some rooftop somewhere,
were wresting from the day
as much as they could.
Up the river above us,
snouting through pools of light,
a black bristle of wind
ran down river
headed for a different ocean
than the one where you and I
with a boat and some string
The city asleep, I watched them,
these two small figures,
as if from a future
which didn’t include me.
Grand Street Bridge, Newtown Creek Queens
Lost in a neighborhood of Queens
I pass a small bridge keeper’s house.
In the slender window a hand holds a glass coffee pot
as someone readies himself for a long shift
and the red draw bridge light
floats on the black canal water below.
Down the other side of the bridge I enter the past;
an old granite bridge out to sea in Maine.
It’s arched back surfaces under
an ocean night sky higher than time.
A cloud sails past like a Spanish galleon suffused with light,
and the full moon casts our five young faces in milk blue.
If someone were to cough in Spain,
across the great glass calm, we would hear it.
The stars like small children have come close
to sit low on the horizon, because they have heard
we are going to go where they can not go;
into the sway of seaweed with its dark channel.
The height discovered in our yells
is silenced as something comes rushing up
from the bottom to wrap our feet in cold.
Surfacing, our tongues taste like
the clear mineral brine of an oyster,
and from above we spot the green
phosphorescent swarm on each of our shoulders.
Then we stand, dry and calm as the black pines
have drunk even the faint ticking of our heartbeats,
to look out at the long bend of the sea.
Was there a voice about to speak?
One that could tell us that we are already here
apart of this milky blue white silence?
Only the sound of gears pulled down four miles up
the island as the drunk we all know puts his truck
into first up the hill, heading for Halifax
with a few hundred pounds of lobster at three am.
His break lights flash, a little forest fire,
and they’re gone with all the years since,
as I walk past a junkyard.
The steel frame of a car window shines at me
That drunk is buried under a tree now
That cloud became morning rain.
While sitting on the benches in Astoria Park, the whitecaps
of the east river led my eye on to Manhattan skyline,
while I ate home made gorp with lint in my pockets.
I thought I knew what freedom was, and maybe it was summer,
this, fifteen years ago, with the hum of the Triborough Bridge overhead;
I would see it from her bedroom window and she
would see it from mine, six blocks away
like that Lucinda Williams song. Her skin as white as china
with little black moles spread across her chest
that twinkled like a coda to a long city walk, as dusk
brought on the bridge lights and her recitations of old Italian poets.
Her love was like Victor’s explanation of watching baseball
in the boogie down Bronx. The way someone would take
the face plate off a street lamp and connect an old TV,
and the way someone’s grandmother made
Mofungo and would hand you silverware rolled in a napkin,
and the way someone pulls an empty chair next to them
and motions for you to have a seat; “lets watch this game together”,
even though I don’t know you, which is what her small son
seems to say with her eyes and her mouth coming towards me
not caring who I’m, out of a distant city that sparkles
on water, out of a photo that arrived in the mail yesterday.
About the author:
Sean Sutherland is originally from Maine and is currently studying with the poet Philip Schultz at The Writers Studio in New York City. His poems have appeared in the literary magazines Prick of the Spindle and will appear in the upcoming Spring 2015 issue of Blast Furnace. He is the director of the reading series Verbal Supply Company in Brooklyn, NY. He is also a MacDowell Colony fellow, and has had plays of his produced in Maine, New York City, and Los Angeles.