“Man Subdues Terrorist with Narwhal Tusk on London Bridge” by Meghan Sterling

Meghan Sterling


It goes and goes. Another day
and I am in a mostly clean bathtub
enjoying quiet in the lavender-scented water
when you knock on the door—
Did you hear about the terrorist attack on London Bridge?
A man subdued the attacker with a Narwhal Tusk!
and giggling, you leave, letting that fill the room.
I lay back. Now I hear the occasional drip of the tap
and I let the scene unfold. A crowded afternoon. Brilliant blue sky.
Sudden screams, a man charging another with a Narwhal tusk.
The steel railing of the bridge, the November air.
People scattering, the chaos of extraordinary situations.
Smoke from a fire extinguisher, nothing in focus
except the tusk like a white light a man is lunging with,
an unwieldy foil. I imagine the feel of it in my hands,
the ivory helix, spots of decay, 5 feet long and 22 pounds.
Did you know, the original bridge is actually
out in Arizona somewhere? I say to no one in the quiet bathroom,
the water cooling. But I remember London Bridge
as it stands. I was 20 and looking over dizzy into the water,
people rushing behind me. London always busy.
All the lives lived hustling, trying to survive cold winters
over this bridge, over the Thames rough with winds,
hands cupping candles in fingerless gloves, or selling matchsticks
and other clichés of 19th century period films of which I am a devotee,
and I remember a handsome young man in a white blazer
nervously smiling at me as he rested against the railing,
and I have thought about him on occasion for the last 20 years,
as if he was a gem I was searching for
but hadn’t the courage to pluck out of the stream.
And I remember crossing bridges without fear
of smiling men or terrorists or knives,
passing by the Narwhal tusks mounted on the wall
of the Fishmongers Hall without registering them
as possible weapons. Probable ones.
O, the innocence of 1999. When Narwhal tusks stayed on the wall,
when London Bridge was just a way for us to cross the water
between City of London and Southwark.

from Poets Respond
December 1, 2019


Meghan Sterling: “My husband interrupted me while I was taking a bath to tell me about this news story. He thought it was funny, but it brought up a lot of feelings for me—namely, about being a young woman alone in London, feeling safe on the London Bridge, and the sadness and absurdity of having to use an artifact like a narwhal tusk to attack a terrorist.” (web)

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