by Todd Boss, poet
When the 35W Bridge famously collapsed into the Mississippi River on August 1 2007, I was just pulling into my driveway in north suburban St. Paul, having commuted across the bridge 20 minutes earlier.
That’s not unusual: thousands of Minnesotans could say the same. After all, the bridge was, at the time, the 5th busiest in the state, freighting 145,000 vehicles a day.
Three years later, in 2010, I still had strong feelings about the collapse. I was angry. I was heartbroken about those who died. I still felt trepidation while crossing other bridges around town. I suffered a sense of betrayal.
And so I started writing about it. I wanted to explore my feelings individually, to take them apart the way the engineers took apart the fallen bridge and laid it on the banks of the big river in 2007. Like them, I wanted to inspect. I wanted to pinpoint weaknesses, identify stressors, compare theories. I didn’t want a big poem that would mean something to anyone else, necessarily. I just wanted to sort out my own jumble of feelings.
The collapse was such a big event, so I set myself a limit: Today I’d write a poem of 35 words, exploring just one aspect of my experience of the collapse; tomorrow I’d write another. Just 35 words. I thought maybe this arbitrary yet rigorous parameter might help me discipline my thoughts, give me new lenses to see with.
In a short poem, everything counts for more. Even the line-breaks. And that’s when I discovered that poems do their own collapsing: they drop down the page toward their inevitable endings, and leave you in empty space. Poems fall.
The eye is a physical part of the body; it moves through every word using muscle and ligament. Reading is a physical act.
And so I began to experiment with my little poems, turning them into miniature collapses, each a minor physical and engineering disaster. Six of them landed in my 2nd book of poems, Pitch. They’re all untitled. Here’s one: