new Mennonite Life logo    December 2000     vol. 55 no. 4     Back to Table of Contents

Sarah Klassen

Reaching the bridge

This kind of day floods everything with grace.
By the time you reach the bridge the sky is cobalt blue,
the ice below you melting.

                      In the morning news
a teenaged girl was handcuffed, beaten, raped.
(The stranger had a butcher knife, black stocking mask)
At midnight she ran out of breath. And now
her bloodied body moves beside you, moves across
the bridge those innocent trucks and morning motor bikes
roar over. Nothing can shake it off.

                      Your heart is ice.
You can't believe that no one heard her scream. No one
came running to her rescue. You turned the radio off
and left your coffee. Came here to the river.
Sooner or later spring will melt the ice
whether or not you can believe it. You will see
flotsam bobbing on the current:

branches the children built last summer into forts
along the bank, plastic bottles thrown from boats,
brown leaves the autumn trees shook off, bodies
of lifeless animals with neither form nor beauty.
Winter's fragments swept without a trace of pity
without mercy by the muddy current
northward past the bridge.

Journey to Jerusalem

1. Anticipation

It is the novelty a journey promises
can set your heart beating and you sing
Jerusalem Jerusalem the beautiful
the longed-for golden city set on hills.
Dew on the Kidron valley. Moonlight
casting a pallid sheen on olive trees.
And you speechless: your own feet
your shining face
turned at last toward the beloved
temple's east gate.

2. Preparation

Before leaving on this journey
this time of year shouldn't you renew
your autopac purchase an rrsp
update your property insurance
file your income tax return and move
your ailing mother from the riverfront
condo to the nursing home?

3. Reservation


when you've assembled your credentials
airline ticket pills for motion sickness
dual voltage curling iron flight insurance
boots sturdy enough for any valley
for the sharp white clavicles the clacking
tibia bleached white and dry
Kidron thigh-deep in blood

is your heart still heavy?
Fear howling through the cracked glass.
Doubt hammering at every door.

4. Caution

The travel agent has assured you violence is unlikely.
and yet who knows what shapes you should expect
to spring at you from a light-obscuring desert storm.
Some thirst-demented animal or ghost of animal a
figure that's familiar unfamiliar lurking in that vacant
building's recessed entrance. A chill shadow
lifting floating over you. A warning.
A memory the mind ejects.

When it comes to movement inward downward
fearful entry into darkness we all dread
the dog-eared guidebook offers travellers no clue.
Too many places still unvisited and not yet mapped.
Places you would like to cancel as the aircraft
carries you as if on metal eagle wings
on schedule to Jerusalem.

5. Destination

The intention of the journey is to bring you home.
Don't be surprised if like Ulysses you will be delayed.
Islands will beckon you their veiled menace
their exquisite delights temptations you can not resist.
A testing ground where character and courage
fall from you like weathered sails. Hard-won resolve
dissolves like the elusive morning mist.

Your fellow travellers will lash you to the mast.
Do not resist them or implore their mercy. Beg instead
for implacability. You are not the first pilgrim
to arrive bleeding from the spent millenium
dragging your absurd tail feathers leaving a faint
furrow that right from the beginning
you suspected has no end.

[Jerusalem photo credit: Patty Shelly]

The children

What if a maverick mile-wide asteroid should strike
one of our planet's continents? For instance Africa,
right in the middle of that crater with its ancient gorge.
A new wound gashing the old scar. Whole herds of wildebeste,
the secretary bird, colossal elephant memories erased
with one stroke. Or midway through a bleak prairie
winter the stony mass comes crashing through clean snow.
Summer: the green canola fields receive the whole great
weight of it. A hole where there was evenness. so huge
you couldn't hastily put up a fence to keep the children out.

A city might be hit but who would willingly set loose
on that the volatile imagination?

Today I watched the children playing in the park.
Each swing was taken. Some waded barefoot through rain puddles
large as lakes. Their mothers fluttered at the edge.
Teenagers escaped from school cruised in their cars.
Seniors dreaming (the way kids dream of space) whole hearts
healthy lungs, walked in brisk pairs
'round and 'round the rose garden.
Athletes on roller blades zoomed past. An asteroid
could end all that the way they say an ancient meteor
once put an end to dinosaurs.

The morning paper would no longer be delivered to the house.
No email messages.
No one to fret about the missing cat,
inflation, the unstable dollar.
Pro-choice/pro-life debates would cease
and what the improbable, appalled survivor (child, teenager,
disoriented senior, me, you) might think or choose to do
the morning after, no one knows but God.

Naturally the saffron moon
and all those enigmatic stars our children love
would keep on shining.