Girls on the Bridge

Derek Mahon

--Pykene na Brukken, Munch, 1900

Audible trout,
Notional midges. Beds,
Lamplight and crisp linen wait
In the house there for the sedate
Limbs and averted heads
Of the girls out

Late on the bridge.
The dusty road that slopes
Past is perhaps the high road south,
A symbol of world-wondering youth,
Of adolescent hopes
And privileges;

But stops to find
The girls content to gaze
At the unplumbed, reflective lake,
Their plangent conversational quack
Expressive of calm days
And peace of mind.

Grave daughters
Of time, you lightly toss
Your hair as the long shadows grow
And night begins to fall. Although
Your laughter calls across
The dark waters,

A ghastly sun
Watches in pale dismay.
Oh, you may laugh, being as you are
Fair sisters of the evening star,
But wait-if not today
A day will dawn

When the bad dreams
You scarcely know will scatter
The punctual increment of your lives.
The road resumes, and where it curves,
A mile from where you chatter,
Somebody screams.

The girls are dead,
The house and pond have gone.
Steel bridge and concrete highway gleam
And sing in the arctic dark; the scream
We started at is grown
The serenade

Of an insane
And monstrous age. We live
These days as on a different planet,
One without trout or midges on it,
Under the arc-lights of
A mineral heaven;

And we have come,
Despite ourselves, to no
True notion of our proper work,
But wander in the dazzling dark
Amid the drifting snow
Dreaming of some

Lost evening when
Our grandmothers, if grand
Mothers we had, stood at the edge
Of womanhood on a country bridge
And gazed at a still pond
And knew no pain.

Edvard Munch, Girls on the Jetty (c. 1899)

Oil on canvas, approximately 53.5 inches x 49.5 inches. Nasjonalgalleriat, Oslo.

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