Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Span

Spanning the milky green waters of the bay, moving between here and there, yesterday and tomorrow. In between is not present, but emptiness. What is crossed and recrossed. What becomes forgotten. The bay was bridged in 1936, stitching land together with suspension and truss-cantilever. Almost 100 years later, it is to be done again. Everything is to be done again, piece by piece.

You too are restitching the same wound, moving back and forth across the puckered skin. Like sentences, repeating the unnecessary syntax. Like love. What to do with all the extra nouns. This body once belonged to someone else, this wrist, this arm once connected you to another.

The bridge can hear each mile that it crosses. Spanning one of the most seismically active regions in the world, it listens for every sigh and groan. The initial pilings were Douglas Fir, clusters of trees banded together like straw on a broom and plunged into the mud. A century later, they are to be replaced with braided steel. The metal is deaf but it can feel the shifting layers of sediment. When the fault ruptures, it will thrust the earth forward. But it is the steel that will torque and scream.

Secondary effects are often more traumatic than the first. What comes after the initial rupture. You were together then you were split in two. There is no feat of engineering that can suture you back.

Beneath the bridge lives a flock of cormorants. During the morning’s commute, while the cars head west into the city, the birds fly east en mass to their fishing site. Within an hour there are hundreds of dark winged birds swimming in rows, nearly half of them submerged in the silty water. They dive into an estuary phosphorescent with pollution, seeking their waning silver fish.

You have stopped breeding. An entire generation forgot to remake itself.

Each span is linked by Yerba Buena Island. The bridge tunnels though. Next to the island sits another, a landfill built for the 1939 World’s Fair. Treasure Island is a fictional place, a landing strip for Pan American Airway’s flying boats, the first planes to provide commercial air service from San Francisco to the Philippines. This was before the second world war, when Manila would see ten percent of its population murdered, most of the city burned. The flying boat died too, crashing one month before in Trinidad. Neither the passengers nor crew survived.

There is risk in connection. To cross sky and water. To link that which has always been apart. After the initial stitching heals, there is a violent cleaving. To begin and end with injury. To break open and closed. This emptiness, this accretion.

The falcons roost in the metal beams of the east span. Once cliff dwellers, they have adapted to modernity, to the human tendency to scrape the sky. The new bridge will have a self anchoring suspension tower, a 500 foot white blade rising out of the sea. The tower is autonomous, manifest, tethering heaven to earth. Once the sections of bridge are replaced, the falcons will abandon their nests. Biologists in white suits will foster their eggs, feed their young, release whoever survives into the wild.

What wilderness remains is the untamed expanse of the mind. You are tethered here, someplace between memory and fantasy, yesterday and tomorrow. Your heart, the dark mess of it, is home to every fledgling.

On the eastern edge is the construction site. Unlike the bridge, it is a temporary structure. At the entrance is a small exhibit of objects found during the reconstruction of the bridge. There, in a glass case, resting on black felt, are two millennia of human objects: a bottle of bourbon, a pill case, the missing buttons of someone’s shirt. Such are the things people carry and loose. On the right side of the case are the older objects, the arrowheads and obsidian skinning knives, the pestles for grinding nuts and seeds. But the most beautiful object of all is an sweat scraper, a elk bone tool curved like a hand to scrape sweat from flesh. The handle is crested with abalone beads, adorned for the monumental effort of lifting the past, its excrement, from the surface of skin.

The bridge is twinned. Past and present structures resting side by side. Soon the old will be removed and only the new structure will remain. But for now there is a window into everything you have been, everything you are becoming. You are cantilever and truss, one arm parallel to the other. Bridge this distance. Cross the hungry expanse.


Jonny said...

This is great Aja...

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