Image of shelter


Scherzer Rolling Lift, Providence, Rhode Island

Held aloft by its massive counterweight
in a perfect balance of large numbers,
an abandoned Scherzer Rolling Lift looms open
above the Seekonk River. Black, rusting, enormous,
the bridge has waited years, but no trains come.
The tracks were torn up long ago. Disuse
has locked the ponderous heavy machinery,
the motors and gears that angled it up
over the water, and let it gently down.

No one maintains an abandoned railroad bridge.
No one oils or cleans or paints, though
every few months someone replaces the burnt-out bulbs
in the red and green lights that show crew teams
and fishermen where to pass. The bridge rusts, its beams and posts
and rollers and joints freezing up against each other
till they can no longer expand and contact with the seasons,
till even the sturdiest truss begins wrenching itself apart,
shattering rivets, splitting seams and welds.

How long can it last, stuck open with never a moment's rest
on the straining metal, seared by the sun in summer
and brittled by the winter's ice? Years? Centuries?
Is it proud to balance, motionless, for decades,
just as the engineers promised it could,
the teeth of its gears, large and small, reduced to numbering
the cycles of hot and cold (summer/winter, day/night)
until its collapse?

Or does it still dream of closing? Of carrying anything at all
across the river? If not a train, then a couple of teenaged boys
on a summer afternoon, as in the old days? Or even a rat,
scurrying from shadow to shadow in the dark of night?
Does it wake eager from its reverie at any hint of motion,
longing for the steel-bright song of wheel on rail,
the accompaniment of its own machinery's humming --
only to realize that the shudder was just a post bending
a little farther from a beam, that the footstep was not
the loving bridge tender on his way to work, but only
a young Coast Guardsman, indifferent, climbing briefly
out of a boat to change a bulb in a light.

June, 1999

Image of bridge

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