Roebling’s Ecstatic Angels
There was no password
or handshake to gain them entrance
to a world they transformed day by day,
only the work
that was their bread and their beer,
and having it meant staying alive even if it killed them.
And scratching down to bedrock,
crowded into caissons darker than their lives,
they tunneled like blind men without hope
while bricklayers and masons
lifted up and lodged the hewn granite slabs
like puzzle pieces, any one of which
could crush a man.
Like Rilke’s gaunt, ecstatic angels
caught in the city’s massive spider web,
they climbed the feverish heights of the bridge,
handling cables a foot in diameter,
threaded the tall needles of the towers
again and again, each stitch exact as a tailor’s.
Roebling watched them from his sickroom
hearing the music his father had composed,
that his father had died for—
the bridge poised like a harp,
the voices of his men singing.