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.