The bridge on the old Silver Road –
a busy ribbon of noise and grey stone –
has long carried the world to Salamanca’s gates,
but in the evening it lies silent and alone.
When the people of these banks are on a journey
they complete it in good time before the night,
and whisper softly as they pass:
* * *
The rider’s long shadow is beginning to tire,
but Salamanca is now almost within his reach.
The messenger banner flaps faintly southwards,
just the old bridge, and he’ll be there.
The sun kisses the horizon, the riders pays no heed
as she steps soft-footed out of the bridgehead.
Her hair wafts white in the evening breeze, her gown shot through with light,
she is blazingly beautiful, a beam of summer, but he only sees the gate.
The slender hand warningly takes hold of the reins:
“Beloved, you are entering my realm of stone,
soon the sun will sink behind haze and hill,
if by then you are still on the bridge – you are mine!”
He huffs: “Woman, gales blow when I ride -
my horse is the fastest in Léon.
It is barely a hundred paces to the other side –
why are you standing in my way? Get along with you!”
She steps back and laughs, her voice cutting like crystal,
already his hoofbeats are echoing along the first arch of the bridge,
when, quietly, in the red glow, he senses figures all around,
like dreams on a journey, like a half-forgotten sound. . .
He lifts his gaze – the grey ribbon of the bridge
soars upward in many arches,
stretches high and wide over the pale land,
and far away, on the blue horizon – the gate.
He curses, breaks into a trot – her laughter echoes piercingly –
and faintly wonders: Could I still have turned back?
The message is urgent, the sun is sinking,
only three fingers’ breadth to the horizon. . .
Some are scurrying, rushing like him, but most of them stand
and stare forlorn into the moments between day and night.
Lost in dreams, they watch world after world flow by in the river.
Only one boy softly whispers as he passes: “Beware. . .”
A stream of ancient time engulfs the messenger,
a Roman soldier, a Moorish child,
he sees nobility, commoners, Alani, Visigoths,
strange attire; strange eyes, empty and blind.
He shivers. Cantering, he tears through the throng,
hair shimmers coal black and ash blonde.
The bridge’s crest! His cry rings through the crowd,
only two fingers’ breadth to the horizon. . .
Fear creeps into his limbs and his blood roars in his ears,
eternity yawns in the Lady of the Bridge’s warning like an abyss.
Will he sink into twilight like the other fools,
a shadow between land and sky, life, death and time?
Up ahead, still very small, he sees her standing,
creases of night nestling in her gown,
her hair blows around her like raven wings,
her black laughter tears at his sanity.
Through her shadows and the idle crowds
Salamanca’s gate is gleaming, lit up by the last sun,
and he realizes: it is too far, but doesn’t want to believe it - - -
still one finger’s breadth to the horizon. . .
Despondent, drowning he reaches for the images of his journeys -
distant waters; white cities, where the sun burns hotter -
thoughts like a fierce kiss. He savors them and lets them wander,
but fear’s hard hand pulls him back into the moment.
Alas! His proud stallion, his friend on all his journeys –
he thrashes him like a stubborn nag,
too far! Sparks are flying from his horseshoes,
too far! Too far! He foams at the mouth.
The messenger’s gaze brushes those who have lost themselves
and in the last heartbeat ere the sun sinks
he invokes the bright freedom of long roads.
He wordlessly wavers,
then pulls around his horse,
tilts his head back,
triumph in his eyes,
and leaps. . .
* * *
Thus they found them both, steed and rider,
shattered under the bridge’s last arch.
They silently stared and no one understood,
for in that place, the bridge was barely three paces high.
The people on the old Silver Road
buried him, who was already enveloped in myth.
No name nor stone mark the place,
but all who pass know the grave.
Even today, on this bank, they sing
of the one man who escaped the Lady of the Bridge,
and they whisper as they pass: “Ride,
the day is sinking behind the horizon!”,
they whisper softly: “Ride, messenger, ride,
unto the horizon!”
August 16th, 2012