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David W. Parsley

The Bridge at Tsavo, 1898

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David W. Parsley

THE BRIDGE AT TSAVO, 1898

 

“Descent approaching now,” the guide had said
perched familiar to the hunching train.
Steam obscured valley and track, dead

tangles glimpsed forming patterns like pain
housed in the far-off smoke where toil
channels extension of an awakened skein

to bridge two worlds. Hours it has taken to join
the work camp, passing walls of thorn
in which the animals blink and turn, avoid

confronting the mystery (as though war
were not raised amongst them) harboring vague
monitions surpassant the hunt only in horror:

no such contest convenes for sentences bred
of our inner coilings. “Lions,” responds the guide
when asked why many laborers have fled.

“Theirs are not the eyes you see, though - they bide
the night to stalk from uncompleted span.
Last male branch of a disfigured pride,

"they acquired their appetites from discarded men
grafted to servitude. Human bones still mark
points of stoppage for those caravans.”

He pauses staring at abandoned work
benches and tents as the scenery slows then stops.
“It is a wonder, these lions. Boma and bulwark

"have not sufficed. No cleverness foretells the drop
of paws among us, victim’s retreating cries.
Many think them devils. Sahib does not.

"He calls it a dream, but I heard the lions outside
my tent flap. They spoke as you or I would, breath
hot upon my upturned face. I kept eyes

"battened to dam betraying waters. ‘Not death,’
continued the one named Ghost. ‘I look beyond
this local contagion to futures of broader swath

'tabernacle to conveniences, adamantine bonds
and confinement, vivisection, enjoined disease.’
‘I will halt them,’ said the Darkness. ‘Hand

'and foot I bind individually, with joy seize
and carry stammering prey along the banks
of River Tsavo to the den of trial and feast

'where waves lap black as the air, stones dank,
no insulting light to glimmer on their tears.’
‘I, too, take them,’ said the other, ‘eagerly drink

'blood and marrow, reading skull, tooth, femur,
if any you have not broken. And I tell
you I have seen one who has come and will, father

'to orders eschewing battery cage and cell,
stranger alike to feedlot and silent spring.
His silhouette comes at sunset striding our hills

'where the sparrow flocks to outstretched arm and song.’
More I do not recall.” Heat clings to fade
of light on the empty platform, lone lantern hissing

in sudden quiet. Somebody’s throat clears. “I say,
where is that station master? Shouldn’t one
of us go and see?” The lantern creaks, gutters, sways.

 

 

previously unpublished
© 2014 David W. Parsley
Parsley Poetry Collection

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