KINDRED VISIONS: "THE NATURAL BRIDGE," by LEE EVANS
Lee Evans was born in Maryland, spent most of his life in that state, and is currently living in Bath, Maine. After graduating from college he held a variety of jobs, including those of landscape laborer, floral delivery man, collection attendant for Goodwill Industries, clerk at the Maryland State Archives, and his current job on the assembly line in a candle factory. He has published poems in Romanticís Quarterly, Contemporary Rhyme, The Golden Lantern and the anthology Rhyme and Reason. He has recently produced a poetry collection called Maryland Weather, which is available on Lulu.com and Amazon.com.
THE NATURAL BRIDGE
A stony arch of faces almost glimpsed;
An unwound scroll of writing almost read:
What bodies interwoven through the stone
That snow and rain dissolve and penetrate
With the carbonic acid of decay!
It seems to be unmoving, yet it flows
From the selfsame font as Cedar Creek,
Which cascades down the lacy waterfall--
As flow all objects from the selfsame Mind.
Unconscious forces shape these primal forms,
This sculpture of the universe; this door
Swung open from the sky, to let the gods
Pass in and out of manís world as they will.
When Jefferson got down on hands and knees,
And crawled toward its precipice to view
The canyon from above, a violent pain
Coursed through his head after a moment passed;
And he shrank back before the void abyss.
Today a wooden fence would shield his sight,
For now the highway dominates the crest;
And what was once conceived in Liberty
Has paved the way to every sacred place,
And posted signs to advertise their worth.
At evening, when the gorge is dark enough,
The flood lights hidden in the clefts and trees
Illuminate the arch with colored rays,
As orchestration and the Lordís Prayer swell
The night air with a paean to Seven Days
Spent by the God of Genesis ere time
Took on its present character, wherein
The human mind creates the awesome scene
In one mere instant that it takes to See.
And they who cannot focus long enough
With their own eyes and minds upon the show,
Distract the rest with flashing cameras
And digital reviews on tiny screens.
The Indians once worshipped here; though what,
And how, it is now hard to ascertain--
Especially for people so abstract
And alienated from the Origin
As those who overran this hallowed place,
And conquered the New World. The nativesí Soul
Was one with this America, and served
No God commanding conquest in his Name,
No lust for separate and immortal Self.
Imagination beamed the mountains forth;
The sunlight from the prehistoric dawn;
The hibernating bear and running deer;
The virgin forests vast and unsurveyed;
The waters so immaculate and pure:
A Vision was this Earth itself to those
Whom we have named Native Americans.
Geology, which Jefferson contemned,
Has traced the evolution of this Bridge
From Cedar Creek, which burrowed underground
And formed a tunnel several miles in length
Along its present bed. But piece by piece,
Its roof caved in; and at the present day
All that remains of it is this same Arch
Which one day will collapse in its own turn.
One stands beneath the groin of the Bridge
Upon the walkway that bestrides the creek,
And feels a pleasant draft between the stream
And parapet where Jefferson stared down.
The eighteen-year-old Washington took hold
Of this behemoth, and climbed up its side
Until he got a foothold; then he carved
His own initials in the ancient Rock
He should have worshipped as the face of God.
The rainbow trout and carp float through the creek,
And heron stalk the waters in a trance.
In clefts above, the doves are murmuring
What doves have murmured for a million years.
Beside the stairs that follow Cascade Creek
Downhill toward the bridge, in death there leans
A tree, an ancient arbor vitae, thought
To be the largest and the oldest such
Existing in the world. These trees increase
About an inch each thirty years in width,
And this one spans in inches fifty-six.
It seems to have a withered, weathered face
Turned backwards into time, away from me;
Away from all who toward its secrets pry.
A slave named Patrick Henry had a house
Upon these grounds; care taker of the Bridge
His master purchased from King George the Third,
Before the war was waged that would affirm
The rights that Man by Nature did possess,
Except in certain cases.
In the days
When this estate became anotherís right,
The tourists gathered in a metal cage,
And, lowered from the summit of the Bridge,
Were serenaded by the violin.
What Declarations here stand on display
In this occult and wondrous archives
Smoothed over by the tufa oozing through
The limestone! Every rain that falls prepares
This dissolution of this edifice, and strains
Carbon dioxide from the plantsí decay,
Which forms the acid that erodes the arch,
Creating portraits faced the other way
Like paintings turned against the stony wall,
And hieroglyphics of forgotten ways.
Whose faces are they? What is written there?
Sometimes I think I see you, and myself.
No one who sees these patterns should conceal
The truth from people who cannot conceive
Their own Mind otherwise than to be owned,
Exploited and developed, mass produced--
Who would consume their birthright piece by piece,
Exploring Natureís passageways to mine
The Rock of Ages for its fossil fuel.
For them has been erected, on the crest
Of one nearby and lonely little hill,
A Stonehenge replica of Styrofoam,
Spray painted gray and shaped, they say, to scale;
Upon which idle vandals scratch their names
With sharp stones while the Blue Ridge fades in mist.
Whoever carves his name upon this Bridge
Is guaranteed to turn a blinded eye
Upon what manís device cannot create--
What looms like Edenís gate behind their backs!
Meanwhile, the faces and the writing call
Contemplatives to that Eternity
Which never leaves us, which we never leave,
As long as like the Indians who dwelt
Here, we respect the spirit forms,
And scratch our villages upon the Earth
So that we leave no trace when we are gone,
Except perhaps for fossil prints and bone,
Above the caverns that one day shall fall
Along with this great monument,-- this Bridge
Which spans between us and our origin:
Behold it now, as, lonely and unborn,
It rises from the mists of consciousness.