The Void, Poem by Ben Okri

The Void

by Ben Okri

I was talking to a builder
of bridges and asked
how he built the structure
that brings two warring elements
together. This was his answer.
What is a bridge?
A land divided, or the gap
between? Most see a unity
wrought through necessity
and compromise, mutual
respect, or cohabitation.
But he was interested in the space
separating these two lands
that perhaps are one hope.
And thinking of the vacuum
made him forge a
rare concept, one worthy
of an old myth. He built
a bridge that acknowledged
the empty space.
To walk that bridge
is to feel the swaying danger
of the wind and the heights,
the howling drop. No one
can walk the bridge without
respect, holding on carefully
to the ropes on either side,
aware of the beauty
and the depths and rocks,
the pitiless desert all around.
Its strangest feature
is the gap that runs through
the center. Neither half meet.
The gap is for thermal expansion
of the tough material.
It’s not the two territories
that deserve it, but the rage
and the void between.
That’s where history falls through.
We need a new kind of bridge, not one that
brings these irreconcilable
peoples together but that reminds
them every day into what emptiness
they both can fall. And there is no
end to that fall, not now or for
all of history to come. Perhaps
the madness will make them
create the kind of bridge that has
never been built before. Not a bridge
of peace, but of a terror for a world
in which peace can never be.

Published on 8 February 2024 in the New York Review of Books.

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