A new bridge is being built over the river in Carpentersville that will connect Longmeadow Parkway on the west bank with Bolz Road on the east side. It will run through the middle of Fox River Shores Forest Preserve, and the fishing hole where Johnny Higgee, Mookie Meschevski, and I used to catch flathead and channel catfish, blue-gill, and large-mouth bass on the afternoons we cut class from the local high-school up the hill off Williams Road. Kayleigh Wind’s parents used to have an old river house, a simple white cottage, just upstream from the new bridge site where life was lived barefoot, feeling through the sole the subtle, otherwise imperceptible changes in the ground, while running around through sacred groves and sleepy hollows, searching for golden boughs; perpetual motion until settling down on the dock in idol rapture to let toes dangle in the river’s gentle flow, while the scent of moonlight and muddy water danced upon the cool riparian air to the undulating drone, the gradual crescendo and sudden decrescendo of cicadas, with no bridge around to form an echo. The last new bridge was built only a couple blocks from there, and that old white cottage is gone now. Inverse condemnation— something about economic development and a public benefit— replaced it with high-rise apartments, townhomes, and strip-mall shopping-centers, all built in the traditional, gentrified style, with its haunting predictability— recycled, corrugated aluminum and faux brick exposed behind stucco. A clear invitation, like a flashing neon sign, that a neighborhood is open for business, and whatever comes after post-post-modernization. I remember going to the river before dawn when they were building that last new bridge, slipping a canoe into the smooth, autumn waters, and watching the ripples expanding outward before getting in and paddling in a steady, reverential rhythm to the spot where the pillar rose from the murky depths through the slate-grey fog like remnants of one of Astarte’s ancient temples. Unburdened by the weight of the road they would soon bear, they appeared to hold up the sky and push back the clouds, opening up the horizon to make room for the sun to rise, and for rose-red dawn to spread herself across the morning sky. Nine bridges between Elgin and Algonquin aren’t enough to ease the congestion; to keep the city organism growing and the suburban expansion flowing from rural town to rural town, the continual replacement of cornfield after cornfield with strip-mall shopping-center after strip-mall shopping-center, the same grocery store after the same grocery store, mile after mile— Campbell’s soup, Ritz crackers, Frito lay and Budweiser beer— aisle after copasetic aisle. The new bridge will make the world that much smaller, it will take less time to cover the same space. The drive from West Carpentersville to the Art Institute downtown will be 15 minutes faster, and that Harold Sohlberg painting of the Fisherman’s Cottage, with its beckoning white house, situated on the lonely shore, shining through a foreground of silhouetted pines with their cracking black oil paint standing out against the continual twilight of the midnight sun will be that much closer, and the feeling it exudes of tragic Odysseus returning home will fade that much further into the brackish morass. ****** Chicago grows outward from its lake shore center, a multi-celled organism that feeds on eukaryotic rural towns along its border, as uniform suburban forms expand the urban perimeter deeper into the estuary where backwards country road flows suddenly into metropolitan thoroughfare, and homogenized town flows into homogenized town, all disconnected, or actively disconnecting from the social histories of their separate pasts, burning the covered bridges along the path from culture to civilization.
What is the significance of this work to you?
I grew up on the suburban fringe. The frontier where urban and rural forms meet. Over time, as urban expansion continued to sprawl, the character of my hometown moved further along the urban/rural gradient to become a traditional suburb where urban forms supplant and do away with older rural forms. So, ostensibly, the piece is about place and how places change. However, if I were to choose an epigraph for this piece it would be the following quote from Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I have tried to use archetypal images and latent symbolism throughout the piece to suggest the latter sentiment while writing in a straightforward manner on the former.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
I chose poetry for this piece because as someone who has spent most of their writing life doing technical writing, with all its rules and conventions, the freedom of form and expression that poetry provides is refreshing. With regard to the actual form of the poem, for me, the most interesting/significant aspect of Bridges is the split register shift between the last two stanzas. The last stanza started as cutting board material; it was just an amalgam of left-over thoughts and phrases that I was trying to fit into the ‘main’ piece but couldn’t quite fit in a manner I liked. I think of the final set off stanza as being somewhat ‘meta.’ It is essentially a short summary of what the above stanzas are pointing at, and in that way, it is intended to show self-awareness. The poem being self-aware enough to comment on its own nature. And for that reason, it is both present in the piece, but removed from it enough to gain the necessary perspective for self-reflection and awareness.
What was your process for creating this work?
Besides the process described above, the process followed the standard creative cycle. It began with a feeling of nostalgia from a return to the source, followed up by some research to further develop the vision of what I wanted to express. Writing came next. And hundreds of revisions ruthlessly followed.
Rudolf is a recently retired lawyer who took up poetry as a means of enjoying his new found free time. This is his first time having one of his pieces published, and hopefully, will not be his last. He is currently on a hiatus from social media, but can still be reached by smoke signal, carrier pigeon, the pony express, or through the grapevine.
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