by Don Citarella
I met a man today selling locks on a bridge,
passing couples in love with much love to give.
With an hour to burn I pushed him to talk.
“What profit there is on a bridge selling locks?
For surely there are hardware and fastener stores
among the masses in towns, surrounded by doors.
Industry!” I said, “It’s about knowing your crowd.
Their desires, on the inside, their budgets, on the out.
But where only lovers come and go as they please
are those seeking locks at 10 zloty a piece?”
He inspected his wares for tarnish and rust.
Wiped away blemishes, mildew, and dust.
And lay it with brothers, aligned side-by-side.
Only then did he face me and smile and reply.
“Do you know of a soul that you’d like linked with yours,
soldered together like hinges on doors?
Secured beside you to remain for all time,
who’ll proclaim to the future ‘I’m yours and you’re mine?’
Even the limits of life, the fringes of fate,
the judgement of death, would not separate?
Do you know of a soul that you love with a certainty,
to lay linchpin in hasp, ’til the end of eternity?
I can tell by your eyes you think I haven’t a clue,
believe nothing’s forever and, in love, nothing’s true.
Think a lock’s just a lock and a key’s just a key.
Lost your wonder, your faith, in what else may be.
‘A profiteer of love,’ you think, I can tell,
with only a chrome-plated pipe-dream to sell.
Go jump off this bridge! Go jump in a hole!”
“But wait,” I replied, “I do know this soul!
We’ve loved only months, but I know that my life
is far too short a time to call her my wife.
But love’s not a river that circles the land.
Death’s not a bridge we can pass hand-in-hand.
And time’s not rewound like the coil of a clock.
Nothing can preserve us. Not a key. Not a lock.”
But the man only smiled, like he’d heard it before,
while the Oder blew wind that the locks could ignore.
Drew my arms to my chest, tears stung in my eyes,
as the vendor just waited for the breeze to subside.
“Take your choice of a lock. This one is on me.
You need it much more than I need 10 zloty.
Write your names together and, lest you forget,
she’s not here today, write the date that you met.
Find a spot on the bridge where the lattice is free.
Affix it forever and withdraw the key.
Vow to your names with the utmost assurance.
Toss the key in the river to flow with the currents.
And know that your names will always be bound
with your wish, and a lock on a bridge in a town.
Long after you’re gone, your love will not sever,
and the key will encircle this river forever.
And so spans the bridge, and so ticks the clock,
arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, like the tumblers in the lock.”
It was then that I noticed what confounded my eyes:
locks, by the thousand, in each hue, shape, and size.
Each emblazoned with names of previous lovers.
Romances long past now criss-crossed each other.
But still they remained, above an ocean of keys.
A testament to their love, forever to be.
They weighed down the bridge, but buoyed my heart,
for this soul and mine would now never part.
Past the cruelties of time, the finality of death,
forever entwined, forever enmeshed.
I selected a spot where I felt strongly attached
Pressed-in the lock, until firmly it latched.
Took the key in my hand, wished with all of my might,
tossed the key to the river, hoped the vendor was right.
Studied our names as I shivered in the cold
and asked of the man how many locks he had sold.
But I was alone on the bridge. No man, nor his wares.
I heard nothing but the wind as he gathered his affairs.
I never did thank him for the wisdom and talk,
the persistence of love, the key and the lock,
the reminder of hope past the lives that we live,
taught to me by a man selling locks on a bridge.
This poem was inspired by my recent trip to Wroclaw and the beautiful Tumski Most. More information about the bridge can be found here. Word on the street was that they were going to cut the locks off the bridge, due to the excessive weight, but they were still there in November 2013 and they’d been talking about it for at least a year. Lastly, please forgive the missing “l with stroke” on “zloty” and “Wroclaw.” My font does not seem to support the ł.