James H Duncan

Patroon Island Bridge

my father once worked on this bridge
and warned of inevitability,
Swiss-cheese construction with
American intuition sealed into every
I-beam and misplaced bolt,
bubble gum and spit

it’ll hold, they told him, for generations

they named it after an island that no
longer exists, the Hudson River reshaped
by time, by nature, by backfill to expand
the human footprint for shipping, for
riverside expansion, for a deeper graveyard
for PCPs, toxins, sludge, and bones

they built this bridge long after my great-
grandfather jumped into the Hudson
after losing his wife to disease, his children
to an orphanage, his job and soul and hope
to the American meat-grinder, and
they found him somewhere near Athens
along the riverbank, never witnessing
the construction of greater, taller bridges
spanning the murky gray expanse
that divides where he was born on one side
and where I was born on the other, a wound
that time can only make worse

I used to dream of crossing the Patroon Island
Bridge as a child, and in the dream I’d be three
or four and I’d always wake up in the back
seat of my mother’s yellow station wagon
wearing my underwear and a white shirt
and no one behind the wheel of the car;
I was alone, and as the station wagon veered
toward the edge of the bridge, I’d crawl
into the front seat to grab the wheel but
the car crashes into the guardrail
and we fall, the car and I, toward that water

and then I wake up

I think of that dream every
time I cross the Patroon Island Bridge


I don’t have dreams like that now, and
they won’t find me near Athens or Catskill
or Poughkeepsie because I went through all
that and I’m still here, by luck or fate,
and so is the bridge, intuition and bubble gum
holding the steel and concrete erect as I pass
along its lanes heading east/west over and over,
testing my luck and testing my fate, testing the
American meat-grinder made stronger with
each passing generation until one day I too
am caught in the wheels and the teeth


they won’t find me near Athens or Catskill

histories will repeat themselves,
and some sadnesses are buried as deep
as Hudson toxins, but I like my chances,
so long as I keep moving forward,
my heart beating me onward
toward home


James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, Feral Kingdom, and Vacancy, among other books of poetry and fiction. He currently resides in upstate New York where he works on novels and reviews indie bookshops at his blog, The Bookshop Hunter. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.