Low Water Bridge

Anita Skeen

Anita Skeen

Low Water Bridge was selected for MSUL’s themed call for work about Water, in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum’s fall 2023 exhibition, Flint is Family in Three Acts, featuring the photography of Latoya Ruby Frazier.

the family called it, the row
of planks nailed down to beams
that crossed the rocky stream
we drove over on our way to Goshen
Church.  Sometimes the water trickled
across mossy stone, other times it gushed.
Crossing that bridge, we entered
my father's past. Much of his family
lay in the churchyard, granite stones
going back generations.  His father
was not there, buried in a small plot
now on private land, loved ones lost
in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Once,
as an adult, I found those fenced-in
graves, high on a hill, my grandfather
and a handful of family sheltered
by a century old black walnut tree.
Could I ever find them again?
One Decoration Day, when I was young,
at the cemetery we planted petunias,
geraniums, marigolds.  A storm rolled
in, thunder reverberating in the hills.
The angels are bowling, my Mother said.
We packed up, piled in our new 1955
Ford Fairlane, turned down the winding
road.  At Low Water Bridge a torrent
rushed over boards, rising over the banks
onto the road.  My father halted, decision
to be made, Mother and my grandmother
urging him not to cross.  In memory, I see
the muddy water swirling, much like flash
floods in arroyos in the southwest,
my grandmother's fear rising just as fast,
my mother saying, Johnny, don't try it!
The bridge was old, boards rotted.  I imagine
us a ship as water seeps under the door.
My father, ten years out of WWII, a Purple Heart
and Bronze Star in his dresser drawer, makes
the platoon sergeant's decision:  we're going on.
We can't back up.  We can't stay put. Water
pours down from the sky, up from the stream.
The car crawls forward, turtle-like, all of us
hunched in our protective shell.  My grandmother's
hands steeple in prayer.  Mother makes tight fists.
Daddy's hands grip the wheel, at 10:00 and 2:00,
his body a rocket about to pop.  I watch through
the car window as brush churns by.  We rock
like a covered wagon in prairie ruts, slosh on,
almost to the other side.  We rise up
the incline, rise onto the gravel road, rise
out of the water, our ark safe from the flood.
Fifty years later, the bridge remains.  I drive
to the cemetery alone, rattle over new boards,
scan the sky for clouds, check how low the water.

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