THE BRIDGE AT MOSTAR

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Built in the 16th century, the ancient bridge at Mostar, Bosnia has been the subject of thousands of paintings and photographs. In an ethnically divided town, it reached across the river to connect the Croats on the West Bank with the Muslims on the East. In 1993, after standing for nearly 500 years, it was blown up during the Yugoslav Wars.

  

This poem first appeared in Lines in the Sand published by Frances Lincoln in the United Kingdom in 2003. All proceeds were donated to UNICEF.


The Bridge at Mostar
by Bruce Balan

There was a bridge here.
For 500 years.
There was a bridge.

Children met on the bridge.
Leaned over the balustrade.
Threw stones into the river.
The stones did not care
from which side of the river they had come.
The river did not care.
And the bridge?
It was made of stone.
Bridges do not care.

Friends met on the bridge.
Lazed against the balustrade.
Sipped coffee, ate cake – messily, noisily.
They talked about oh, how it had rained last night.
They talked about a new scarf.
They looked up to the sun.
They laughed.
And when they parted,
they sometimes forgot which side of the bridge
led home.

Lovers met on the bridge.
Sat on the balustrade.
Fingertips touched.
Cheeks touched.
Winds blew across the river.
The lovers kissed
and did not notice the wind braiding their hair.
The wind did not know which side of the bridge
the lovers were from.
Their lips did not know.
But their minds knew.
Always.
And they thought how difficult it was
to be lovers who met on a bridge.
But also how exciting.
And they were grateful
that there was a bridge.

Birds met on the bridge.
Perched on the balustrade.
Sang.
Pecked crumbs left by the friends.
Swooped through the cool darkness below.
Then out again – joyously – into the light.
To the birds the bridge was a place for crumbs.
Each side was the same except
on one they had built a nest.

It was a fine bridge.
An old bridge.

But then the bombs met on the bridge.
The bombs knew nothing of the bridge.
But the men who dropped them did.
The bombs knew nothing about the sides.
But the men who dropped them did.
The bombs knew nothing of the lovers.
But the men who dropped them did.

And now,
There is no bridge.
It is mixed with the stones dropped by the children
At the bottom of the river.
The river does not care.
It does not care for sides.
It feels the sides as it slides by
Like a blind man feels walls.
But it does not feel for the children.
Or the lovers
Or the bridge.
It flows over the bridge and says
You are mine now.
I will make smooth all that was broken.
I will make you forget
You were a bridge.

That is what rivers do.

The bridge is gone.
The lovers.
Gone.
The friends.
Gone.

A fine old bridge.
It stood for 500 years.

Now there is the river.
And the sides.
And the men with the bombs.

And the children.
Standing on the sides.
Stones in their hands.
Staring at the place.
Where there was a bridge.


(Bottom of the Page Legal Stuff: This poem is copyrighted by Bruce Balan and may not be used without permission.)

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