David Herrle reviews Jared Carter's Cross This Bridge At A Walk
published by Wind Publications
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"Every place has its secrets, its holes
and entryways into the earth, its shafts
abandoned and still burning underground,
its desert reaches..."
In "Visit," Carter invites us to shrink and sink into a town map until we're in the past's present. Though I can't explain exactly how, the passage perfectly relates to my own time travel into old photographs, magic immersions into nostalgia I never knew and a three-dimensional reality by a wild mental leap.
"...shrink yourself down
not to that scale but to that time, that place..."
I relate this passage to the book's cover image: a covered, wooden bridge in leftward perspective, bright daylight breaking through cracks and gaps and in full bloom at the opening on the other side. The image deepens after reading Carter's poetry. I imagine crossing the bridge (at a walk), listening to the author's recollections and verse that shine like glimmers through the wise wood. Visiting the past, including pasts we've never known, needn't happen through hypnotic regression, wormholes or light cones, but across psychic bridges, where three-dimensional, fully illuminated and colored realities bloom at other ends, where - to lift the closing line of "Jesus Walking On the Water" - one isn't simply imagining "but becoming it, showing it to be true".
Cross This Bridge At A Walk, Carter's fourth poetry book, feels like old photographs and maps, has the scent of wise wood, glimmers through cracks and gaps. Carter's capacity for epic pieces is frustratingly impressive. At least a couple poems are nine pages long, and one goes on for fourteen. Not being a fan of lengthy poetry, I paused on Carter's bridge at first, wondering if I'd the energy to make the trip. I made it, with pleasure. His work isn't solipsistic rants or repetitive drones; it's work: good work, invigorating and rewarding work.
The hefty pieces are memoirs, telescoping recollections, stories within stories. (The covered bridge itself is a telescope, the other end's apparent smallness clarifying behind's closeness and mass.) Consider the introductory Marguerite Young quote for "Shelterbelt":
There is no single reality...you nevertheless go on, walking towards utopia, which may or may not exist, on a bridge which might end before you reach the other side.
This parallels what Carter hopes for his readers, as said in an interview: "A sense that we're all in it for the long haul." This doesn't necessarily mean that human existence is something larger than ourselves (an outlook I tend to despise) and that individual lives are mere blips, but that our existence is grand context, each life hardly a sunbeam away. You don't really "shrink yourself down" in Carter's poetry. The poems' focus doesn't shrink experience, but expands it to fit the heavens, as far as "a nebula/thousands of light years away". There's history, genealogy, geography, modified landscapes, weather and flora, and music. The book is a warmer and lighter Faulkner (Mississinewa County is Carter's Yoknapatawpha) mixed with Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology and in tune with a Bruce Langhorne score.
Please forgive my predictable bridge fixation, but my favorite piece is "Covered Bridge," primarily narrated by Carter's uncle Baxter. As the first-person in Heart of Darkness relays Marlow's account, Baxter's narration contains a further narration of his great-grandfather, George Barnabas Decker, Civil War veteran.
Decker, a Union soldier, parks his horse, Old Fly, prepares to fulfill a mission to burn a strategic bridge, and is interrupted by Rebel troops. The Rebel captain strikes a deal with Decker: play a game of cards for the bridge's sake. The decision is complicated by Decker's personal desire for the burn, since he was one of the builders and has bitter recollection of the hellish experience. A sudden wind cancels the game by blowing cards away. The Reb captain agrees to kindle the bridge, gambling the fire's success or failure against the wind. "It's a bridge against Fate, in a howling gale," he says. As if by mercy, rain strikes. Decker tries the last match anyway. Then the rain ceases, and the fire succeeds.
We could look back and see clouds of smoke
boiling from the center of the bridge. Flames
broke out here and there among the shakes.
Seven years later, an iron bridge is built upstream, and old Decker and Baxter fish from it. Decker reveals a card he had palmed, just in case the game didn't go his way. Baxter recalls:
I could almost see those cards blowing away -
watch them scattering down the tunnel and on
through the cracks in those boards: see them
tumbling and falling through the air toward
the water, showing one last hand - queens
and eights and a one-eyed jack - and then
landing on the water and disappearing there...
It turns out that Dexter is buried with that cheat card, along with a broken brass watch. The anomalous enemy encounter and the waste of a bridge for the sake of a war ("a tragic and senseless affair") is preserved for eternity.
No matter how many bridges we collectively forget or burn, our grand context and destiny can't be eliminated. Our deep meaning is our hidden cheat card against oblivion. The book's closing poem is entitled, "Lost Bridge," but we find the bridge again and again in our hearts' memory. And though it seems that only we move over a bygone, dead way, through careful perception we realize
that the bridge
itself is moving, in long, slow rhythms
like some sort of creaking weathervane
or needle balanced over fields of force
- review by David Herrle 12/2007
Also featured at The Compulsive Reader.
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