Crossing Brooklyn (after Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”) by Sharon Jackson

1
Flood tide below me! I see you face to face
Moon rising in the east, maybe half an hour high, I see you also face to face

Crowds of people attired in t-shirts with protest slogans, how beautiful you are to me!
On the bridge, the hundreds and hundreds that cross are more beautiful to me than you know,
And you that march from shore to shore years from now are more to me than
words can do justice.

2

Like marathoners approaching the Verrazano Narrows
we approach the bridge
heart pounding as one, breath moving as one
Like the river below us, the current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away
we flow through the streets, each face a droplet
each face, brown, black or white
each face, documented or not
merged into one human river, calling its ancient song:
“The people, united, will never be defeated!”

In time,
Others step onto the threshold of the bridge and march from shore to shore
Others watch the water flowing below
Others see the skyscrapers of Manhattan north and west, the heights of Brooklyn to the
…………south and east,
Others see the islands large and small,
Fifty years from now, others see them as they march, the moon half an hour high,
A hundred years from now, or however many hundred years from now, others see them,
Chant our cry against oppression high above the water, far below the moon.

3
Time and space evaporate on this river just as much as water
As Walt Whitman before me reaches out to me
I reach out to you, I am with you
As you call out into the night air
As you stand with your brothers and sisters of all races and creeds
As cars (perhaps flying ones) on either side of the walkway honk their support and your cheers
………….rise into the wind
So is it for us
Brown black white faces
Documented undocumented
Evaporating, rising, carried on by the wind.

4
Before the protest began, I was given some advice from a friend
In the words of the Tao Te Ching:
“When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.”

There on the bridge
At one point, the wind pummeled us
Fifty mile an hour gusts slammed into the bridge
Wooden planks like the floor of the ferry, beneath us, rocking, swaying
We picked up the pace, afraid, tried to get to the other side quickly
but above us, we could see
the powerful current of air unfurled mi única bandera
stretched it, pulled it taut like a sail against a mast
Above us, la libertad across the night sky in all its colors
Below us, the swaying bridge that kept us alive
because it knew how to yield.

5
We were watched as we marched
The moon and the helicopters watching from above
Spectators and cops from the sides
The East River watched us from below
and God watches us from within

All of these are one
The moon, the helicopters, spectators, cops, the East River, God, and us
What is it, then, between us?
Though we received identities from our bodies
there are no true barriers between us
Illusion of division melts as the mist rising off the river.

6
Yet even as time is an illusion
We can – we must – learn from illusion
We know what happens through disconnection

Though we are many droplets, we are one river
Though we are many faces, we are one being
Though we received identities from our bodies
we are one body

One body experiencing an autoimmune disorder
One body whose cells attack itself
each cell thinking it will benefit

If the hand touches fire, the arm must yank the hand away
or soon the arm will also burn.

7
Even as we repeat history, we do not repeat history
We try not to repeat history
God, not this time!
Those who seek power love categories, boxes
boxes to label us, divide and conquer
boxes to keep us fighting with one another
boxes to place us in and lower us into the grave!
Not this time! We rise like a mighty ocean wave
We rise before the lid is closed
Rise up into the air like the Holy Ghost
The people, united, our only chance for life
Arc of the moral universe, bend in God’s name!

8
I love well this city
Diversity is its jewel
because we recognize it as one
This jewel is our fuel, like the stone of Atlantis
pulsing the fire in our veins
If I forget you, oh New York City,
let all the cells in my body forget their purpose
If our jewel suddenly appears lackluster in our eyes
If we no longer valued it, cast it off the bridge
let it plunge into the East River,
All the life would drain from our eyes.

9
But now I look into the eyes of the people marching beside me
I see your eyes, yet unborn in my time, yet born in yours
The full orange moon rising, half an hour high
glints in our eyes, dancing with life
The flood tide below reflects the moon and us
Timeless river that carried Walt Whitman across
flows like the swift-flowing blood in our veins
as we march across these wooden planks
Today
Tomorrow
Forever
More beautiful to me than
words can do justice.

***

Sharon Jackson is a writing consultant at the QC Writing Center, and a research assistant and intern at the QC Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding. She has a six-year-old daughter and two cats, and loves to get lost in the woods.

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