A Bridge, a Remarkable Bridge
by José Lezama Lima
Our internal dialogue dissolves into vivid apparitions and non sequiturs. The carousel of images is informed by our immediate surroundings, perceived through a film of light sleep. ‘A great silver shark’, impossibly held aloft by millions of ants, reappears as an object ‘placed in the middle of my bedroom’. At times our thoughts feel lucid, as we mark the minutes ‘in the fourth quarter of midnight’. At others, we are unable to muster any eloquence, drowsily making do with the adjective ‘jellyfish-like’.
Paving the poem’s rhythm are the slats of a bridge, though its nature is unclear to us: it may be tangible in origin, or it may be metaphorical. The motif is bandied from hand to hand and kneaded in the palms of its proposer, passed to us as rhetorical prop or object of meditation. Repeatedly anthropomorphised, each step along the construction could stand for the inching, arching notches of vertebrae. Towards the poem’s end, aqueous imagery washes over human characteristics, culminating with a contemplation of ‘mermaids oozing their latest seaside proclivity’.
Words by Elizabeth Brown
While crossing José Lezama Lima’s remarkable bridge, we are met with all manner of imaginings, strange similes, and mysterious metaphors. At first, they seem overwhelming in their transitory nature and sheer quantity, but certain words and ideas return again and again. The bridge that stands at the start of most stanzas supports a ‘great silver shark’ and an ‘ousted king’, carried across by worker ants in an act of deposition. Power appears to ebb away, ‘mind’s matter’ following a fantastical path from consciousness to sleep.
But it is not only the poem’s three central symbols that recur throughout. The biggest building blocks are simply keystones that hold all other free-flowing thoughts in place. The structural echoes are joined by smaller-scale instances of déjà vu, with nouns flitting past, repeated in redundant reiterations. Pregnancy, waves, and light bulbs all feature in the opening stanza, introduced then quickly reprised in the following clause. The effect is that of the tide slowly coming in, lapping over us, ‘as mannered as God’s yawning’.
Words by John Wadsworth
More to discover
Roberto Tejada has translated this poem, along with José Lezama Lima's 'Old Surrealist Ballad', for BOMB Magazine.
Question of the day
Yes. An artist's dreaming mind and its accidental creations are every bit as ‘creative’ as an intentional work of art – maybe more so.
– Eric A. Anderson, game developer and world-builder for the Myst series, Obduction, and The Witness (via The Brief →)
Dreaming and creating both involve being in touch with and processing emotions. Often dreams do it for you when you aren’t doing it otherwise.
– Frankie Cosmos, musician (via The Brief →)
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Dialogue dissolves into vivid apparitions and non sequiturs in this surreal poem by José Lezama Lima.