The Swing Bridge

So Much Depends



‘With marvellous smoothness and ease, and silent as the stars, the roadway parted twain, in the presence of thousands of admiring spectators. The highway over the river went asunder’
    – Mr James Clephan on the opening of the Swing Bridge, 17 July 1876



And though I have seen you

so many times before,

today you are as striking

as William Carlos Williams’

simple observation.

Swing Bridge, red

and white bridge,

so much did

once depend

on you.


History does not tell

of a time

before a bridge.

Swing Bridge,

does the memory

of wood and stone ring

in your cast iron girders?

To fire, all wood

is kindling.

To a river, a stone


is moveable. Steel alone

endures. But neither heat

nor time destroyed

your predecessor.

It was the desire

for you. The dream

of a bridge

that could not only cross

the river,

but open it.


Today, there is no one

manning your cupola.

I alone am at your centre.

The river below

is impossibly bright.

Cormorants spread

their wings,

weight the jetty

like feathered



On my way here,

a plaque above

a blue wheelie bin

told me that there,

the Chapel of St. Thomas

stood until 1830

when it was demolished

for road widening.

If even the sacred

is negotiable,


Swing Bridge,

what will keep

your hydraulics slippery

now that the staithes

lie in waste,

the days of big ships

are done?

Obsolescence waits

on the far shore,

waving its welcome.


To hear

the sleek hiss

of your engine,

I would set you off

like a top –

holding fast

to your railings,

my hair a whip.

We would spin

like any of the planets.


Swing Bridge,

you are not ready

to join the ranks of rust,

Thomas or any

of the saints.

Let me ride you

like the metal bronco

of eternity.


we will swing.



Kris Johnson is from the foothills outside of Seattle, but has lived in the UK for the past decade. Her work appears in journals and anthologies including Hallelujah for 50ft Women (Bloodaxe), Ambit, The Irish Literary Review, Poetry London and The Rialto. She holds a PhD from Newcastle University.