Originally posted February, 2014:
I have posted this poem before as part of a triplet, but it does, I think, stand on its own. It is a true account of an experience when I was a young boy, maybe around 8, when my father and his friend marched out ahead of me on a disused railway bridge over the Missouri River [*] raging some considerable distance below. We were all going fishing, me following behind. The gaps between the wooden ties they confidently strode across and along seemed huge to me then, and the fall to the river below was palpable both in its apparent inevitability and the fear it caused me, even now as I recall it. We also climbed down onto one of the concrete pillars that supported the railway line as our fishing platform. I don’t know how I did this either. What I do remember so clearly is almost immediately dropping my bamboo fishing pole into the river, so scared and shaking that I couldn’t hold onto it, and equally vividly, but I’m bound to doubt for some reason, there was a petrified fish [no pathetic pun intended] laying on the top of this pillar.
Did someone further down the Missouri
snare my bamboo fishing pole,
maybe by accident and, later,
when the river slowed and lowered,
sit down calmly at its side and dangle
a line into the cold steady flow,
hooked a fish I could only dream about
when scared by rapids I’d dropped it
from a railway bridge up near Niobrara?
It is always possible that someone
will find triumph in another’s fears
and it could be this optimism that drives us on,
even if we only discover it years later
when hankering after an idea of hope.
[*] Researching this evening it might have been the Niobrara River, a tributary of the Missouri. I found the picture below too just now, but I have no idea at all if this is the actual bridge. On the one hand it doesn’t in any way reflect what I recall as a massive fall to the river below, but on the other there is a sense of the huge expanse and remoteness of the place. I’m sure it is a mistake to try and literally capture and explain. Of contemporary interest as we deal with the flooding here in England, Niobrara as a village, founded in 1856, had been flooded itself so often it was eventually and literally moved to higher ground in 1977. That’s flood avoidance on a grand scale.
NB This poem also appears in my collection The Precarious Real, details here.