Crossing the Bridge
This poem was written in July 2007 in Rwanda. It came to me after hearing how one man survived the genocide by hiding under bridges and wading through water and swamp. Nowadays, he earns his living as a driver, mostly in the same rural areas where his brother and extended family were killed. He often has to drive over the bridges he knows so well from April 1994.
You know every turn, your expertise is heralded. There isn’t a hole in the road, or a bridge, or a serrated contour that would not yield to your deft handling. You drive like someone who knows bumps and pitfalls and hidden dangers, as if an inner radar guides you. Nothing seems to blow open that face, no trickle of emotion drips through, no one dare ask for a key. But somehow I see the dark figurines before your eyes as you approach familiar bridges. Memories grip your eyelids and slash their way beyond the impassive face. What effort to hold your breath, to stay running before the lava erupting and flowing down your chest onto the dusty redness that rises from the wheels of memory. You must know it will all break out: some day it will ask permission to moan, to squeal, to bay above a thousand hills and memories. Will you let the trapped animal of your pain be heard? Will you allow the slow debilitating resignation to shape-shift in the frost of despair? Will piercing and accusatory eyes at last transfix the world and ask for a tiny favour? One day a bridge will ask you to change tack. Your careful expertise will find a gaping hole instead of log and plank and you will place your firm and confident hands on the wheel and say: No further now. It is time to silence the engine and let the grieving rain wash the pain away.