David Steinsaltz


            Burning bridges (1997)


Not every city -- scion of trading posts,

barbarian encampments, gurgling grottoes

of holy healing springs -- was sited squatting

on spans athwart the haunches of river valleys,

so that the silver spasmic slapping casts

a luminous net which almost grips the alleys


and slides along the weathered stone facades,

caressing cornices, bladescrapes of a skater

gliding toward her endless pirouette;

is saturated and split in its very heart,

a constant current, as though anticipating

some long-decayed seabed corsair, a freighter

with triple masts and the stench all about of tar,

tar and the sweat of five-thousand years: -- and yet,


almost by accident I find myself

again, at the high buckled up-arching,

inclined just slightly over the rim, a gaze

composed of equal portions storm and stealth,

that plunges just at the same moment it raises

a single speckled eyebrow: question marking.


Perhaps.  But grave astonishment and rage,

when the traitorĺ─˘s shuffling tread is first discerned

creeping up around our loosely watched perimeter,

are posed by the same gesture, or broadly similar,

impossible to differentiate

in this gloom of rain, no longer fine, but turned


to bloated globules bursting in random series

scattered, spattered across the road puddles

and the river.  Across this battlefield, you,

not quite visible, nothing perhaps but a subtle

turning of the air, rippling queries

backed by the lambent aureole gibbous moons


can cast while settling upstream through the clouds,

are mirror to my gaze, reflecting moments

that never were upon your murmuring skein

of thoughts that never will be, and yet spins out and out

from that infinitesimal point, the might-have-been

of all your fleeting passions, skimming south,

low over the water, black and golden,

wings spanned as wide as midnightĺ─˘s with her train

and all her vagrant thoughts; yet seizing me

at just one point, whipping me about

to face the stars and smell the further sea.


Revolving in the mist: a trembling form

and more beyond, as though a resonance

of my own heartbeat, and from every passing storm

the echoes were collected, sampled, cleaned,

extruded, wound on spools of future tense,

and played out, stretched and aching, across the stream;


so that as I take descent and softly meld

into the crafty city, which waits and listens,

which, fell glistening in bestial avarice,

sucks down the spatter Iĺ─˘ve expelled

as though to grunt, as though to reminisce,

surely not to whistle this song.