California Poet Laureate Celebrates Bay Bridge

Juan Felipe Herrera will read an original poem during chain-cutting ceremony on San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

Herrera riding in vintage car

Juan Felipe Herrera rides in style en route to the chain-cutting ceremony on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Photo courtesy California Department of Transportation

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — As a child in the 1950s, Juan Felipe Herrera and his mother would board a Greyhound bus in San Diego for a 14-hour trip to visit cousins in San Francisco. He looked forward to the moment when they crossed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

“I was mesmerized at the lights and as we crossed I knew something beautiful was about to happen,” recalled Herrera, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside who was named California Poet Laureate in March 2012.

Herrera will return to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Labor Day to participate in a traditional chain-cutting ceremony celebrating completion of the bridge’s eastern span, which features the largest self-anchored suspension span in the world. Significant damage from the 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 necessitated replacement of the eastern span.

With an audience of labor and transportation leaders, local and state elected officials, and the mayors of Oakland and San Francisco, Herrera will read a poem commissioned for the event, “Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem, Labor Day 2013, for all bridge dreamers, bridge builders & bridge crossers.” His poem will be framed and displayed in a state facility near the bridge.

“This is a great honor for me to represent California, our university, and the families whose children build dreams as they cross over the waters from one city to another,” Herrera said. “I was one of those children.”


Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge East Span, September 2, 2013
for all bridge dreamers, bridge builders & bridge crossers

Self anchored self-sustaining a light onto itself
This arc that lifts us this arc that sings us as we pass
Bay Bridge – I see you now your new design risen

Above star-waters a new galaxy appears a new trillion
May we live in your safety in your carriage in your heart
May all your hours and all your lights embrace us once again

May we curl across your shoulders as bird-fish singers
May we be the bridge for a new time of beauty and peace
Let us thank the workers – artists of space and matter

One sound one tree one knitted rebozo shawl for our mother
Aloft she turns she protects renewed waves of children
Today we are born to wind-sky steel and turquoise choirs

We are filled with light-strength height-gratitude and violet
Ocean stillness we open our arms our bridge of many bridges
Everything is different now melodic silver harmonious

Everything is open now spiritual inhalation of the Pacific Rim
Voyages migrations the conversations of generations Viva!
The workers applaud now iron-workers painters welders planners

Architects engineers laborers drivers Viva!
Lifters callers crane operators Viva!
Cement mixers cable threaders Viva!

After the earthquake
We shall live – yes
We shall round dance and honor

Spider buggies comin’ up!
            Light poles hold ‘em steady      steady
                                              Saddle template fit-up
                              North mainspan cable ready           ready
                                        Motion sensors booster pump expansion tank

Spider buggies comin’ up!
           Spider buggies comin’ up!
                       Spider buggies comin’ up!

We shall live in our luminescent loom of lights and cosmos yes
We shall hula dance in expansive unity once again today yes

Hand to hand shoulder to shoulder woven and winged dancer
Bumper to bumper cable rider to cable flyer call it out now
We shall swivel alive golden silver dark sequenced with joy

We shall live crossing into the other from one to the second
From the second to the linked infinity today the chain is cut and we
Are released again Oakland San Francisco earth to all earth

Ocean to sky-wind to star nebulae once again you and me – we
The people the people El Pueblo it is the people Bay Bridge
Hold on to each other move now rise now for the world to see

— Juan Felipe Herrera
Poet Laureate of California

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