From Connections: New York City Bridges in Poetry

Poets House Walk

Across Brooklyn in a city dense
with watery dreams, a procession
of crazy lovers strike out
to hear poetry recited mid-span.
The hum of traffic, an appreciative
audience roars approval.

Toward DUMBO* through the mist
poets, strivers, drivers, divers
graying groupies, gropers hoof it
to see hundred year old Kunitz carouse.

We stalk poetry across the bridge
in a town distracted, manufacturing
your next thrill, and your next.

But the jig was up. It rained.
All readings canceled.

Bicycle tires tharumped over
old pocked, trampled wood.
Rush of water slapped girders
shivers of bridge as the last wet drop
shattered metal decking.

Finally, the rain gave up and
there was June light, shadow slant
wide angles of cable, long stripes
falling across beaten planks
a gorgeous geometry,
engineering, poetry and the wonder
of holding things aloft.

Joan Gelfand



From Connections: New York City Bridges in Poetry

A Poem Not About The Brooklyn Bridge

Shopping for discounted Christmas cards, post-season,
my partner holds up a box he’d think be perfect. Baby,
I say, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge.
So? He replies. We live in Queens, remember? I say,
and the other cheap ass customers laugh. It’s not like
anyone outside this city can even tell the difference,
he mumbled. And the Brooklyn Bridge is all they got.

For the record, world, Queens has got beautiful bridges, too.
There’s the 59th Street Bridge (which Simon and Garfunkel
named their “Feeling Groovy” song after! my partner adds),
also known as Queensborough Bridge (And you can see it
in opening credits of “Taxi,” my partner adds), and I dare
you to drive over it after midnight, zooming yourself out
of the Manhattan skyline, hurtling towards all that neon,
over Roosevelt Island, to Silver Cup Studios billboard
(Where the Highlanders once fought! my partner adds again)
and try to hold your grateful hand over your tender heart.

My partner and I live in Astoria between two bridges:
the Triborough, which we are now expected to call RFK,
and the stern red East River Arch Bridge, which everyone
knows is called Hell Gate Bridge. Every morning I stare
at these bridges while waiting for N train, and every night
they wink at me as I walk home, even on the worst days,
like the winter when the Triborough wore an enormous
American flag on its southern face, so we’d have something
bright and solid to hang our eyes on, when we grew sick
of leering at all the bellowing ash and stubborn black smoke.

Even now, my partner and I walk to the river each weekend,
to Astoria Park, which was designed with us in mind: young
and hungry workers who burn hard all week and just want
a bit of green grass, a few bracing trees to remind us we are human.
We walk around the park like a couple of fat monks,
quiet and grateful, the cars thundering across the Triborough,
Hell Gate bracing for another Amtrak train, the water whipping
over rocks, churning up a tinkling coastline of beer bottles
slowly turning into bright green and pale brown sea glass.

Some days I think we are those beer bottles, slapped against
the city until we are forced to be more beautiful. Other times,
I think we are the park, still green and hopeful, in willful spite
of everything around us. But the best times, I think we are
the bridges, tying together where we were to where we are,
beautiful and strong and doing our job, even if no one takes
our picture, even if no one remembers our names.

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz


A Poem from Peggy


To small island with 2 Norway pines
Mom and Dad
gray, hard-cover history text
my dentist
bagels with Rabbi David
mint ice cream with chocolate chips
the moonlight sonata


From Connections: New York City Bridges in Poetry


I was eleven or twelve the first time
I walked George Washington Bridge.

My mother had gone to pay a shiva call
and she wanted me out of the house;
She thought I was too young for death.

My mother’s second cousin, Henry, took me,
a girl from Brooklyn.

Even then I knew a bridge was meant for poetry.
I recited a Shakespeare sonnet,
low so Henry didn’t hear,
a better choice than Abou Ben Adam,
my repertoire from school.

I turned back half-way across,
as if I knew I should not go all the way.

I was a teenager when I crossed Brooklyn Bridge,
imagining myself walking with Whitman side by side.
I, too, singing a song of myself, still low,
still afraid to be heard.

Always Brooklyn Bridge out, never back.
That was for the Williamsburg—
from Hebrew school, from errands for my mother.
Back to where I began
so I could go forward once more.

I have crossed them all in time:
Kosciusko, Goethals, Verrazano, Throgs Neck,
Whitestone, Manhattan,
never again by foot.

New York is an island;
bridges are the way out—
and in.

I, too, am an island,
looking for a bridge out—
and in,
afraid of crossing to the other side.

Edith Chevat

Stars of Verrazano Bridge

Crossing the Verrazano I always sneak
an envious look at Lower Manhattan
and its lights; they’re stars that hang weightlessly
from the sky,
but so do apples on the tree,
maybe my head will too float like them,
weightless and free like all things that
leave the ground behind;
birds and chimney smoke,
gargoyles and the windows lit up
in a penthouse apartment
miles above the sidewalk
where the weight of the night
is hatching long dark ropes.

Paul Sohar

Brooklyn Bridge 3 A.M.

The first car crosses the first trestle
at two a.m. on a Monday morning,
a lonely thump, bump,
as the river roils dark brown beneath.

In the long cool in-between
of waking and sleeping,
the driver’s a quiet room,
occupied by encroaching city skyline.

No theory, little substance,
just a craning, searching light,
a mind reclaiming itself
out of chaos,
skyscraper stars,
momentary steel flashes.

John Grey


From Wait: A Parkinson’s Poem Sequence

By Peggy Garrison

On Foot
(for Rabbi D.A.)

A Jewish Santa
you come to visit us
on foot—the pack
on your back bursts
open like a piñata—
out fall dreidls, cookies,
a menorah, support, prayers;

Jewish Santa—
a rebbe on foot—
to December’s darkness
you bring light!

Parkinson’s Lament

My brain—
a sudden traitor—
going its own way—
my sweater’s become a labyrinth—
can’t find the armholes,
which end is up?
Pills prop.
For a couple
of hours I can
shuffle cards
sign a check
straighten my back
cut my meat—

a dropped cake
a fall in the street
my trusted brain
now a turncoat
firing on its own harbor—

who gave the order?


Swallow every pill in the house—
throw myself in front of a train—
(but what if part-way
I want to change my mind?)

Pacing the platform
I wait—
wait for faith
to re-register
like waiting for a
word to re-surface.

My husband brings me
warm potato soup—
olive oil in my throat
salt under my tongue—

The word is live.