The Nightmare Continues in “With the People from the Bridge”
With the People from the Bridge, by Dimitris Lyacos. Translated by Shorsha Sullivan. Nottingham, UK: Shoestring Press. 2015. 64 pages.
Considered to be post-modern as a literary genre, “With the People from the Bridge” by Dimitris Lyacos contains allegorical themes similar to Dante's “Divine Comedy”, in addition to containing pre-Judeo-Christian symbolism with a dose of classic science fiction elements thrown in for good measure. A combination of narrative prose and poetry, “With the People from the Bridge” is the second installment of the Poena Damni trilogy, a continuation of “Z213: Exit.” Not yet read by this reviewer, “Z213: Exit” sets the opening scene for a continuous allegorical nightmare: escape from a dystopia, only to be subjected to what appears to be a very long wait for salvation from the human condition in “With the People from the Bridge.”
The black and white and gray cover of “With the People from the Bridge” resembles water beneath the bridge with the silhouette of a man in the lower right corner – a silhouette that is completely vacant in expression, suggests the figure to be the narrator of the story. Despite the story's primary Christian overtones, the symbol of the bridge between the spheres of this world and the next has its origins in Zoroastrianism, also referred to as chinvat in the original Avestan language. Like Dante's “Vision of Purgatory”, the second installment of the Poena Damni is the waiting room for the individuals in the story where the narrator periodically reads from the Bible or plays an audio cassette as sources of comfort for those waiting to cross the bridge to a better world. The overwhelming anxiety that pervades every character plus the dreary, dank location in the city resembles the physical purgatory for what it is, a total of thirteen (a telling number) individuals sitting around an oil drum, trying to light a fire within it, as if all were homeless and trying to stay warm. One man, shirtless, nails together a crude cross from wood sticks. A woman arrives in a dilapidated car that seems to come from nowhere. The narrator describes a city which is their destination, a place which has more in common with Fritz Lang's “Metropolis” with its machine-like functions:
Mouths open, opening and fed from above.
They were closing, crumbling
inside, opening, lowering again, opening
closing crumbling opening only on top.
A city you couldn’t go anywhere.
One would fall on the other
and then they would go and bring more.
Lyacos effectively blends such science fiction elements like the above with religious, as in the first poem, where the narrator reads from one of the Gospels, where Jesus expels an unclean spirit named Legion from within a man (Mark 5:9). It is the balance of these two elements that has the reader experiencing the feeling of being trapped between heaven and hell, wondering which destination is likely to be permanent yet hoping for the best option.
In addition to that state of waiting anxiously, other non-Christian religious elements appear throughout the dialogue. For example, a pomegranate as part of the meal in which everyone present partakes is the fruit of the underworld, the one which Persephone ate six seeds of which confined her to the underworld for half of the year. The group of thirteen also periodically hears barking dogs, long considered guardians of the spiritual realms. As Dante wrote in Inferno Canto VI (after Longfellow):
Howl the rain maketh them like unto dogs;
One side they make a shelter for the other;
Oft turn themselves the wretched reprobates.
Then there is the white worm, the symbol of death and renewal; in this case, the renewal of life itself as a sign of salvation when the narrator and other members of the group prepare themselves for traveling to their final destination of heaven:
Enough light. A white worm, long.
The narrator eloquently describes the exact moment when their Savior will arrive:
Slowly they will dry
and then He will come.
Yet the very end of “With the People from the Bridge” contains an unusual twist upon the entire preceding story that permits the reader to further inquire into the allegorical premise (no doubt also encouraging to read the third installment to Poena Damni, “The First Death”). Sullivan's translation of Lyacos' work retains the unstructured syntax, the simple sentences and sometimes non-sentences for the reader to gradually descend into the world the poet is experiencing while at the same time wondering if imprisonment of life, and death, are as nightmarish as they can appear to be.
Heavenly Light, by Linda M. Crate
I hear the blue birds singing
they give me songs to bless my heart
raising the spirits you crushed
beneath your boots
with your wolfish smile and false sincerity,
and the moon and stars sewed me
after you tore me apart;
sun star gold steals away my frowns replaces
all the madness and sadness in me with
nature revived me when I thought I would
die love sick over you,
and I wanted to throw myself off the ivy covered
bridge and let the water devour me;
stare forever at the beauty of river stones but then
I decided I'd rather dance in the sunlight
pools and have heaven kiss me
with all of it's light and watch shooting stars fill the
skies with candles and sparks and lanterns
of beauty that never diminished
so I unapologetically lived—
there's nothing so great that I cannot get over it
will accomplish my dreams leaving your
memory behind the way you left me,
and one day when heaven is shining behind me
you'll see all the clouds in your eyes
Getting Untangled, by Clifford Saunders
Imagine it is dawn
and you are dancing
on the pier
in your funniest cap
because you just might
ease the pain.
The moon over your head
turns deep blue
and a fisherman hooks it
for your blue box
You regret your life
of the blue light,
and you’re a danger
to the lucky few
who carry their own
chaos in their hands
as if it were chalk.
Maybe you should stand
for a while beneath
the bridge near Hickory Grove
and listen hard for the moment
when all is untangled.
Maybe you should be chosen
to find the hidden stone
of the moon still beckoning
from the red sand
along the coast.
If nothing else,
the music in your hands
will be plentiful.
In this wishing hour,
walk through the fire
of your own blue light.
you will receive
the power of the stars.
Threading the Nest, by Clifford Saunders
Suddenly there are leaves
howling at the moon.
There’s a silver sky
the poet has abandoned
for the god of dreams.
There’s a galaxy
in the shape of teeth
bringing people to their knees
in a cornfield.
Deep in the forest
there’s a levee guarded
by medieval gargoyles
but no one knows why.
There’s a gem
of bright energy
underneath a porch
Color it orange.
Perhaps there is another
hanging by a thread
from a train window.
a slow train coming
through the rain.
Take the train,
because there is
a new gateway
where birds are nesting
and the full moon
shines brighter than ever.
Clifford's poetry has appeared in Hot Air Quarterly, Miniatures, Bluestem, Tattoo Highway, and Parody. He works at a South Carolina correctional facility.
So Good It Hurts, by Scott Thomas Outlar
What a way to say, “I do.”
I dive inside
and seek the deepest core…
where you have stored
your hidden diamonds.
I excavate the mines
and defuse every bomb
that we may dwell in peace
amongst our vows unto health,
happiness and perfect
of anatomy…both heart and body,
both psyche and soul.
You are the fire Goddess
which I have sought
across the ages
to burn my ego
down to ash
and resurrect my better conscience.
You are the righteous Phoenix
that rises my faith
out of apathy
and melts this coal
of black death in my chest.
You are the force
that I must reckon with.
You are the dragon
that I must let slay me.
You are the answer, the reason,
the high wave, the last sip,
the truth, the peace,
the most beautiful pain imaginable.
Scott Thomas Outlar spends the hours flowing and fluxing with the tide of the Tao River, laughing at and/or weeping over the existential nature of life, and writing prose-fusion poetry dedicated to the Phoenix Generation. His words have appeared recently in venues such as Dissident Voice, Dead Snakes, Venus in Scorpio, Section 8, and Siren. His debut chapbook "A Black Wave Cometh" will be released in April through Dink Press. More of Scott's work can be found on his blog at 17numa.wordpress.com.
Head In the Clouds, by Michael Keshigian
At least once a year,
on a clear, crisp Spring morning,
he hikes with a colorful backpack,
most of the 6,200 feet
of a Mt. Washington trail,
dodging boulders and brush
to find a clearing
where he can spend most of the day
counting clouds that parade
the blue dome northward,
barely whisking the peak.
With any luck and to carry on comfortably,
he might locate a rather sturdy white pine,
climb a muscular limb
and build a nest
upon adjoining branches
with the gear he packed,
just in case,
then lay back and stare upward
with pencil and pad in hand
to connote quantity and types,
odd formations and densities.
Most friends might think him foolish
and he somewhat agrees,
being half crazy with the abundance
and wonder of it all,
delicious moments of quiet
interrupted only by whispers
amid the leaves
or the occasional crow’s caw
which awakens him
from the hypnotic state clouds invoke
as he realizes the dilemma,
a complete and utter fascination
Anxious Amble, by Michael Keshigian
The trees, on this late summer’s eve,
coerced him into believing
they could hear his thoughts,
sense his angst as they bent over
the path upon which he strolled
while night climb slowly
down their limbs
to absorb fading shadows
that danced the trail he trespassed
as the wind whimpered a whistle.
The ample leaves flailed
and quivered their percussive timbre,
a collective voice
that seemed to answer
his queries when breezes stoked the air,
silenced when the setting sun
stifled the airstream locomotion,
mitigating nature’s delicate response.
With everything quiet, everything dark,
the remembrance of another evening’s saunter
illuminated his mind,
an evening filled with laughter,
bare-feet splashing in an ocean puddle,
a romantic caress; what heavy,
hurried steps he took to keep pace
with the bright image upon him
until it too faded into the current darkness
that consumed him,
steps that eventually guided him
to the sky at path’s end,
a clouded, misty sky,
where even the stars, night’s children,
those glimmers of hope
against infinite night,
were missing as well.
Michael Keshigian’s ninth poetry book, Dark Edges was recently released this September, 2014 by Flutter Press. Other published books and chapbooks: Eagle’s Perch, Wildflowers, Jazz Face, Warm Summer Memories, Silent Poems, Seeking Solace, Dwindling Knight, Translucent View. Published in numerous national and international journals, he is a 5- time Pushcart Prize and 2-time Best Of The Net nominee. His poetry cycle, Lunar Images, set for Clarinet, Piano, Narrator, was premiered at Del Mar College in Texas. Subsequent performances occurred in Boston (Berklee College) and Moleto, Italy. His website is: michaelkeshigian.com.
Three Panels for a Triptych of Dalian, by Michael Paul Hogan
Language has been given to man so that he may make Surrealist use of it.
- Andre Breton, 1924
A dog in Taoist headgear and dressed in red walked on a roof like a man.
- Luo Guanzhong, 1522
FIRST PANEL: LEFT
A city of courtyards /
of sudden silences
of expressionist angles and fan-blade shadows
of apartments that wear blue-tinted spectacles
of people painted on paper trams)
of sixty-four squares and clockwork cages
where dogs wearing Dior float over the rooftops
and lick the icing off the window panes
and look in through skylights at couples sleeping
and chase kites and are as invisible
SECOND PANEL: CENTER
I shall paint this city.
It is not a city of words it is a city
of images. Collage is also an option.
I shall prepare my paints and brushes with infinite care.
Also my scissors and a copy of Vogue magazine.
Collage is more quickly than a violin.
I shall limit myself to three colors only
(black and white are not colors they are visual
silence. So is a rainbow).
Burnt Sienna, Viridian and Cobalt Blue,
one color dominant on each panel,
representing Chunliu, Jinxiu and Malan,
where tomatoes sell people with circus faces
and harlequins wearing bicycles
THIRD PANEL: RIGHT
A city of silences /
of sudden courtyards
of children’s alphabets on washing lines
of green steel doors and concrete stairwells
of pasteboard people and shadows)
of parasols where morning markets bloom
and pineapples are captains of pirate ships
and bananas are elephants… A double city
where stars explode in fountains of rose petals
and streets the all are everywhere suddenly
Soft Bone Cell, by Ally Malinenko
You are dissolved now
into nothing but soft bone.
These are the parts you’ve
or taken for granted
while you were busy
living and feeling invincible
busy growing blisters
treading city streets
in distant countries
the language of which you speak
to order a beer.
This is the soft bone cell
of you that began
the timed breakdown
and the hefty weight
of the parts
that are now spoiled.
You are nothing more
than the soft bone cell
and this thumping heart
matter less than you knew
This is the breakdown
with shallow breaths
and a quick flick of fingers
are now in it
and there is no getting out.
Ally Malinenko is the author of The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press) and This Is Sarah (Bookfish Books). Better Luck Next Year, a book of poetry chronicling her cancer diagnosis is due out this fall from Low Ghost Press. She lives in the part of Brooklyn that the tour buses don't come to.