The Iron Bridge

I am standing on a disused iron bridge
that was erected in 1902
according to the iron plaque bolted into a beam,
the year my mother turned one.
Imagine-a mother in her infancy,
and she was a Canadian infant at that,
one of the great infants of the province of Ontario.

But here I am leaning on the rusted railing
looking at the water below,
which is flat and reflective this morning,
sky-blue and streaked with high clouds,
and the more I look at that water,
which is like a talking picture,
the more I think of 1902
when workmen in shirts and caps
riveted this iron bridge together
across a thin channel joining two lakes
where wildflowers now blow along the shore
and pairs of swans float in the leafy coves.

1902-my mother was so tiny
she could have fit into one of those oval
baskets for holding apples,
which her mother could have lined with a soft cloth
and placed on the kitchen table
so she could keep an eye on infant Katherine
while she scrubbed potatoes or shelled a bag of peas,
the way I am keeping an eye on that cormorant
who just broke the glassy surface
and is moving away from me and the bridge,
swiveling his curious head,
slipping out to where the sun rakes the water
and filters through the trees that crowd the shore.

And now he dives,
disappears below the surface,
and while I wait for him to pop up,
I picture him flying underwater with his strange wings,

as I picture you, my tiny mother,
who disappeared last year,
flying somewhere with you strange wings,
your wide eyes, and your heavy wet dress,
kicking deeper down into a lake
with no end or name, some boundless province of water.


From SAILING ALONE AROUND THE ROOM (Random House, 2001)

 

Poems by Billy Collins

On Turning Ten

Sonnet

The Iron Bridge