The Bunker Wall

On an Autumn day long ago, I happened on a wide bunker wall in the middle of a brush field. Around it, massive brick buttresses sloped toward and were swallowed by dry dust. In either side of the wall there was an entrance leading to a cavernous tunnel. The tunnel spanned the length of the wall. I walked in. Gazing through bright porthole eyelets from inside the fortress, I saw a hidden courtyard dotted with naked artillery foundations.

I left the clearing, boarded a ferry, chased the setting sun across the water, climbed into bed, and as darkness fell, I imagined being back there, stranded among the ruins. Late afternoon shadows crept swiftly across the empty fields, black ribbons weaving themselves through the decrepit foundations. Blackness fell and I grew small there, stranded from my body, wandering a moonless night on this island in the bay.

I woke with the burden of a heavy bunker wall across my back. I held its weight and shadow in my heart. It grew so large I saw a tunnel, then a locomotive made of ash, spewing deadly smoke over a thick, dense forest. The artillery stands were suddenly occupied with steel pincer-like barrels. It was a deserted, ruined city in my mind by the time I had a chance to return.

One day recently, I landed at the docks, and set out a quarter mile. I scanned for tall trees and saw none. I scanned for the monolithic wall and its numerous grates and portholes, and the hidden courtyard of imposing guns. I saw none. What I saw was a dusty lot, just off the road, surrounded by homes and littered with brush. I walked to the center and saw no structure, only an indentation in the dust, a small parting wall no more than a few stones high. As for the guns, I saw nothing but a few barely discernible rivets poking from the ground, evidence of where something must have stood.

Dazed, I wandered back to the docks and asked a local what had happened to the great fort in the center of the island. "It's always been that way," he answered. "At least since nineteen-hunderd or so. Hasn't changed much since then."

The ferry coasted back toward the mainland and I bent my elbow over the bow, brow furrowed. It was clear that nothing had changed since my first encounter there, so long ago. The constructs sifting in our minds through the years change us. Sometimes, they are only shadows of their lesser, day-time counterparts from which they spring. As afternoon bends, their shadows elongate and deepen, and they are often what we remember, what we take with us as we move forward. What then, does it matter where it all begins?

I had, on that recent day, hoped to wander the deep dark bunker, climb its sloped walls and gaze out at the armament graveyard. It is clear now that I still can, in a way, if I lie back, close my eyes, and let it happen.


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