This is a fable for grownups. If you are a child close this place now, X the corner.
Child, are you still here? If you must remain, pretend it isn't true. It is a fantastic tale. Being an adult might or might not be like this.
There is a sound track to this story: frantic scratching, the soft "uh-phuhh" of an inward sigh, the Pheobe in spring, walls falling down, a trumpet's blare. Generally, there are refrains: murzzing, wheening idles, catgut peaches of sound, stitched in just so by an angel on her oft-repaired and beloved fiddle, her bare feet planted on an old wooden floor. You will want to rise and dance to this. Generally, refrain.
She will play folk tunes from all over: snatches of old Sumerian ballads, a few Celtic reels, some Mongol laments. She will be joined by human voices: Appalachian hollers, medieval plainchant that echoes details, masked Greeks who chorus "yes". You will want to join in. Generally, refrain.
I will begin --
-- but first: will you hear me? Is your skin puckered from hot water? Do you light a scented stick and ring a small bell? Are you less than a day away, either way, from a lover's kiss? Has the best thing been torn from your worn-out arms? Do you uproot strength from holy ground, or do you give what strength you have to everyone you find?
You might not hear me. I will begin:
There once was a builder of bridges, and he was free. He was his own William, and he grew taller after all around him stopped short. He grew a little more, paused, grew more, and everyone else grew tired, smarter, confused, richer, calmer, or listless. William re-stitched his apparel, leaned in, slouched, or stayed in his seat but sooner or later, everyone who paid him for a bridge or ate groats with him or knew him at all looked at him sideways, and said: "You look different."
He always shrugged and said: "Naw."
By the time he was thirty he had memorized the tops of everyone's heads; the parts they had, the coifs and coverups, and comb-overs and false roots. He was a good egg, and generally refrained from mentioning what he saw.
But I digress: he built bridges. All kinds.
He once built a bridge from four tables to one special table, on the roof of a restaurant; a wide Japanese bridge that curved over carp. Lovely, gliding carp, giant orange and white and grey and black carp. He was paid in cash, but the owner was so pleased he also gave him a most magnificent meal, a dinner served on enormous white circular plates, by tall men and women in white and black silk, who came and went over the new bridge -- their robes susurrsh, susurrsh with every step -- to serve William at the singular table.
Every plate had one beautiful thing: a slice of aged beef on a giant leaf that fluttered beyond the plate's edges, a delicate red radish carved into an expanding spiraled accordion and drizzled with piquant sauce, a pyramid of stewed fiddlehead ferns, with a perfect giant scallop on top, like a sea-born Fujic glacier. Mere mollusc, uplifted.
To pay the bills he also did the occasional overpass, some french culverts. A swinging bridge, old-style, in the Ozarks. For friends, foot paths that arc'd over small streams.
He once spent weeks plaiting thousands of fatheaded wheat stalks, a few inches higher every day on two towers, until they teetered to meet in the middle, and at the apex he balanced a quiver of flaxen arrows with rye seed points, and draped atop that was a bow of hardened sunflower stalk, strung with a twisted strand of milkweed.
He once built a bridge of fire in Iceland, a momentary pyroclastic convergence of lava streams forced with hardened granite tubes of wondrous construction over a steaming fjord, for a truelove wedding. William was scarred by this forever. He insisted on standing beneath it, to guide the roiling red himself, to allow no flaw or misstep. Of course, he failed at this: the molten rivers forced their own way over, collided and exploded in mid-air, making a picturesque disorderly curve before the whole thing collapsed. He had not found true love yet for himself, and mistook perfection for affection, and though he escaped the worst of it, he was spattered by his own good intentions. For the young lovers on the far shore it was beautiful. Poor William left with small holes and sore spots, and decided he would find his own true love and figure this out.
William's search for love is not for now, not this story.
Now children, this won't go as you might expect. I warned you. Perhaps you should go outside and ride your bicycles.
See, William was probably the best builder of bridges in the world, and even tho he was always growing, and used to slouching to cover it up, and became kindly because how else should he live? and endured his sore spots and was totally brilliant, he wasn't happy. He wasn't doing what he wanted to do. Building bridges was something he sort of fell into.
Way back when William was little and not his own William yet he was left alone and he drew circles, undulating lines like unwound basso piano wires, halfway arcs and nearly closed spirals, jittery wombs and multicolored nests, bull's eyes of rough chalk, gnarled piles of edgy saucers. He exulted in this. He tore them in half and joined one to another, odd pair-ups of delicate pencilled caves with rough crayoned orbs. He ruined walls with waves of paint, and limned whole beaches with sticks trailed behind his smooth-limbed runaway swerves.
William satisfied himself. When he couldn't draw he wrote about these living lines, found words to describe how it felt to draw and sculpt and move, to start in one place and always be returning, or nearly so, to complete and re-complete, always, and leave a trace behind. He saved phrases and then made them his own, turning them around and into one another, the words and pictures a cycle, a cloverleaf, a curvilinear calliope, a copacetic continuum. William was happy, and his happy tears fell to make dot-rimmed circles he could outline with magenta auric emphases.
Even the faces and forms he drew were sinuously cycoiled, the shapes and outlines draped and turned just so, around rippled dorsi, slung hip, tensed calf, the hollow under the back point of the jaw, just before the artery, beating beneath the prickling skin. His delight knew no boundary as he enscribed with pressed carbon, colloidal pigment, waxy color, and he filled the margins of every new picture with noodling notes and wriggling words.
Then someone said: "That's good. You can't make money with art, though."
The someone said: "Those look like bridges."
They all looked like bridges, all that William did: bridges of light, of caramel, of bronze, of circuitry, of horsehide and feathers and skin. But William, who had grown to be his own William, free William, could no longer do as he pleased. He had to pay his way, and make good on his promise, and earn a living.
"I guess so, " he said. "Sure," he said, "Bridges."
Are you still here, child? Do you hear what's here? Do you want William to be happy?
There is great good in bridges, thought William. His first bridge was made of popcorn, cooked with electricity, and he was delighted. His next bridge was dirt and timber, to rescue his ancestors, and this made him noble. Then he built a covered walkway, then a bridge of sun-cracked clay, then an eggnog roundabout for NASA, and a wisteria'd portico for his crotchety maiden aunt -- not a real bridge, but close enough. None of these were great or even good to him, but everyone chorussed "Yes!" Everyone hollered for more. Everyone plaintively pled to know the details, how he did it, what were his inspirations.
In answer he took a pencil and moved his arm, made a rounding flow and bent his wrist with precision, and held up the result, and grinned. No one understood this at all. They asked him for more bridges.
Bridges are fine work, as work goes. Everyone needs a bridge. Who needs a perfectly rendered birch peel? or a pastel of a cumulic heap, cirrussed scales, aglow as the sun declines? or a pensive brow tiled just so, of a gladiator, in victory over his dead foe, trident dropped, his eyes just gestures but all of the whole of a life in those few bits, a look that says why is this honor, why is this glory, what does his death give to me, why do you all love it so?
Just lines, just curved lines. Who needs those? Bridges connect molten steel buckets to huge pounders and rollers. Bridges make me meet you. We clash, we make love, we deliver boxes, with bridges.
Free William sits when his work is done. His bridges do good or they cause harm or they do nothing at all. Some of them exist because they can, some because they must. Some are mundane, some are unique. William makes a living. "That's good enough", he says.
He bends, to make everyone feel better, and loves the top of every head, just a little, and once in a while he writes about the torus of an arm, or drags his toe in the snow to remember how rotation and return feels.
If you are a child, make up a happy ending here. Perhaps William circumnavigates the world with a purple crayon.
But if you are not a child, go and pour hot water on your soapy skin. Find her and kiss her again. Light a stick, strike a small bell. Hear a sound track your every movement, conjure music for all of it, even the worst pain, even the best of what we must endure. Wrap yourself in your own worn-out arms. Generally refrain from mining the holy ground; instead give your strength away to all you find, and to all who find you.
Build bridges, like poor free William, who loves us all just a little. And settle for the rare and imperfect gesture, the turn that winds and tightens the heart. The bend in each of us that is ours alone and is forever incomplete.