Young, female, and immortal as I was,
I stopped at the first sight
of that broken bridge.
The taut cables snapped
and the bridge planks concertina-ed
into a crazy jumble over the drop,
four hundred feet to the craggy stream.
I sat and watched
the wind shiver on the broken planks,
as if by looking hard and long enough,
the life-line might spontaneously repair itself,
but watched in vain.
An hour I sat in silence,
checking each involuntary movement of the body toward that trembling bridge
with a fearful mind
and an empathic shake of the head.
Finally, facing defeat and about to go back
the way I came to meet the others. Three days round by another pass.
Enter the old mountain woman with her stooped gait,
her dark clothes and her dung basket
clasped to her back. Small feet shuffling for the precious
gold-brown fuel for cooking food.
Intent on the ground
she glimpsed my feet and looking up
“I greet the God in you”
the last syllable
held like a song.
I inclined my head
and clasped my hands to reply, but
before I could look up,
she turned her lined face
and went straight across
that shivering chaos of wood and broken steel
in one movement.
One day the hero sits down
afraid to take another step,
and the old interior angel
limps slowly in with her no-nonsense compassion
and her old secret
and goes ahead.
David Whyte, from Fire in the Earth, 1992