Barthelasse

by Elizabeth Gibson

Summer in Avignon makes the Rhône soupy and green.
The ancient city stands over us; the broken bridge aches
for its lost part, its other half, that led to the river island
of Barthelasse. Did you know people used to sing and
dance there, the bridge above them, and someone smart
wrote a song about it? But somehow over time the folks

ended up dancing on the bridge, not under it. History can
change things in a second; she is cruel and temperamental.
She did not see us under the bridge. She did not see that
we were happy there out of the way, we were hurting no
one at all, we loved and our love was surely more vital to
the curve and sweep of time than the bang of muskets or

the hiss of hearts stopping. History told us to get up off
the island of Barthelasse, go back across the Rhône, and
for me to pick up weapons and fight and for her to go and
wait for me somewhere far away in a sea of lavender and
olives. She hid fugitives, she tended to wounds, and she
generally was worthwhile. I cannot be convinced I was

when all I did was kill Germans. Stop hearts. Split up
lovers. History ordained that I dance on top of the bridge.
But I was supposed to be below it, of that I am sure. My
place was to help, not to destroy. She and I were reunited
but it was never the same. Now we are back and the river
is green and the city looks the same as it did hundreds of

years ago except that the bridge is broken now. The
river currents were too much for it and they let half of it
go. We sit and talk and don’t really get anywhere and
there are moments when – call me crazy – I think I see
the other half of the bridge, a ghostly outline hovering
above me. I think I see people dancing. Then it’s gone.