Monday, July 16, 2018

Walking

by Tone Skrjanec
translated by Matthew Rohrer & Ana Pepelnik


such a sticky day today.
coins clang in my pocket as i walk.
piles of ducklings are squatting in the shade of a tree
which could, at a quick glance, be a willow.
two women with legs bare to the knees are laughing
and gesticulating blessedly while crossing the street
that winds around the lake. walking is important.
thinking while walking. bodies while walking.
three cyclists on the top of the stairs are from another world.
covered with science-fiction helmets,
all red and flushed. looking like aliens.
while you walk you meet many almost divine creatures,
i.e. ducks, which i have already mentioned,
or this one here, sitting all by itself by the lake
and, seemingly without purpose, widely opening its beak,
so its long and slender neck is beautifully tightening.
such a sticky day, and yet
such a nice evening's silence.
just cars, birds, and oars
from afar hitting the lake,
and it seems that we animals are mostly satisfied.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Laura Kasische - Bicycle Poems

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I had no familiarity with Laura Kasischke's poetry until reading one of her poems in the Poem-A-Day feed. I checked out Where Now: New and Selected Poems from Copper Canyon Press and am more than halfway through it. It's overdue at the library and can't be renewed but this one is worth the fine. Below are four poems in which bicycles are prominent, including one that may be the only poem ever written to include TWO of my favorite things in the world, a bicycle and Old Faithful geyser. She can be forgiven for calling a bison a buffalo; it's common among tourists and more poetic, as William Cody would surely agree.

For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike


I'll tell you up front: She was fine - although
she left in an ambulance because
I called 9-1-1

and what else can you do
when they've come for you
with their siren and lights
and you're young and polite
except get into their ambulance
and pretend to smile?

"Thanks" she said to me
before they closed her up. (They

even tucked 
her bike in there. Not
one bent spoke on either tire.) But I

was shaking and sobbing too hard to say goodbye.

I imagine her telling her friends later, "It

hardly grazed me, but
this lady who saw it went crazy..."

I did. I was
molecular, while
even the driver who hit her did
little more than roll his eyes, while

a trucker stuck at the intersection, wolfing
down a swan
sandwich behind the wheel, sighed. Some-

one touched me on the shoulder
and asked, "Are you all right?"

(Over
in ten seconds. She
stood, all
blond, shook
her wings like a little cough.)

"Are you
okay?" someone else asked me. Uneasily, as if

overhearing my heartbeat
and embarrasses for me
that I was made
of such gushing meat
in the middle of the day
on a quiet street.

"They should have put her 
in the ambulance, not me."

Laughter.
Shit happens.
To be young.
To shrug it off:

But, ah sweet
thing, take
pity. One

day you too may be
an accumulation
of regrets, catastrophes.
A clay animation
of Psalm 73 (but

as for me, my feet...). No. It will be
Psalm 48: They

saw it,
and so they marveled; they
were troubled, and hasted away. Today

you don't remember the way
you called my name, so
desperately, a thousand times, tearing

your hair, and your clothes on the floor, and
the nurse who denied your morphne
so that you had to die that morning
under a single sheet
without me, in
agony, but

this time I was beside you.
I waited, and I saved you.
I was there.

Buffalo


I had the baby in my arms, he was asleep.
We were waiting for Old Faithful, who was late.
The tourists smelled like flowers, or

like shafts of perfume moving
from bench to bench, from
gift shop to port-o-pot. The sun

was a fluid smear in the sky. Like
white hair in water. The women
were as beautiful as the men, who

were so beautiful they never needed
to see their wives or children again.

It happened then.

Something underground. The hush of sound.

I remembered 
once pretending
to have eaten a butterfly.
My mother held my arms hard until
I told her it was a lie

and then I sighed. I've

loved every minute of my life!
The day I learned to ride a bike
without training wheels, I

might as well have been riding a bike
with no wheels at all! If
at any time I'd

had to agree to bear
twenty-seven sorrows
for a single one of these joys...

If the agreement were that I
had to love it all so much
just, in the end, to die...

Still, I can taste those wings I didn't eat, the sweet
and tender lavender of them. One

tourist covered her mouth
with a hand
and seemed to cry. How

could I have doubted her?
There were real tears in her eyes! The daisies

fell from her dress, and if
at that moment
she'd cracked an egg in a bowl,

the bowl would have filled with light. If

there is a God, why not

this violent froth, this
huge chiffon scarf
of pressure under water under her
white sandals in July?

The baby was asleep, still sucking, in my arms, a lazy

wand of sun moved
back and forth across his brow. I heard a girl's laughter
in the parking lot, soft
and wild as

the last note of "Jacob's Ladder"
played by the children's handbell choir.

I turned around.

It had been watching me. Or him. Or both of us.

Good beast, I whispered to it
facetiously under my breath.
It took, in our direction,
one

slow and shaggy step.

Bike Ride with Older Boys


The one I didn't go on.

I was thirteen,
and they were older.
I'd met them at the public pool. I must

have given them my number. I'm sure

I'd given them my number,
knowing the girl I was...

It was summer. My afternoons
were made of time and vinyl.
My mother worked,
but I had a bike. They wanted

to go for a ride.
Just me and them. I said
okay fine, I'd
meet them at the Stop-N-Go
at four o'clock.
And then I didn't show.

I have been given a little gift - 
something sweet
and inexpensive, something
I never worked or asked or said
thank you for, most
days not aware
of what I have been given, or what I missed - 

because it's that, too, isn't it?
I never saw those boys again.

I'm not as dumb 
as they think I am

but neither am I wise. Perhaps

it is the best
afternoon of my life. Two
cute and older bys
pedaling beside me - respectful, awed. When we

turn down my street, the other girls see me...

Everything as I imagined it would be.

Or, I am in a vacant field. When I
stand up again, there are bits of glass and gravel
ground into my knees.
I will never love myself again.
Who knew then
that someday I would be

thirty-seven, wiping
crumbs off the kitchen table with a sponge, remembering
them, thinking
of this - 

those boys still waiting
outside the Stop-N-Go, smoking
cigarettes, growing older.

Green Bicycle


There it is on the horizon, wavering.
There it goes, disappearing, into space.

My father hears sounds in the basement.
He goes downstairs in his underwear, a seventy-
year-old man in the static of night and rain.

The wall's caved in. He turns
and climbs the stairs again.

No trouble, no illumination.
I guess God likes it that way.
But the foundation of my father's 
house has collapsed
and the insurance company won't pay
and here we stand this afternoon

stupefied in our wet shoes.

No enemies, no friends.
Without the middle, no beginning or end.
If the phone doesn't ring, if the thing never breaks...

The world says, Give me
more of yourself than you can spare
and I'll take you to a strange
city, drop you off downtown, come

to pick you up a little later, greatly changed.

Once, an old man
sat down beside me on a park bench.
He said he was from Ireland.

There were thistles
in the wastefield beside the pond, pre-

historic in their silence, their
shapes, their faith. My bike
was green, and new, and mine. I owned

the most beautiful bike I'd ever seen, and
rode it, watching
myself ride it
like a prepubescent ghost
with long soft hair
into the supermarket's plate-glass window.

It had gotten me to the place
I was, which was, perhaps, farther

than I ever should have been.

He put his hand on my hand, leaned
over and tried to kiss me on the lips.

Oh, no, I said - got up, ran, never looked back. But

Today I would ask that old man, What about all that?

The turtles were paddleing on the pond's smooth murk,
poking up their faces for a better look.
The thistles made their hushes
in the breezes. Tell me, kiss me, Old One. This

time it'll be
our little secret.

Although, that time, thrilled with my
first horror, riding my bike home
I stopped

over and over to tell this story
to everyone I knew,

and my father, a very young man,
came down there looking for you.










Monday, July 31, 2017

Fragments

Fragments

(Against September 11, 2001)

by Brendan Galvin

1.
He breezed past me on a bike so thin
it looked bulletproof, another spandex
superhero, I thought, until he came back
slowly, sagging and loud, both hands
on the grips, talking to nobody
on this road given over to birdsong.
Both towers? He was almost screaming now.
Both? Another vacationer losing
his mind at his leisure, until I saw
the headphone clamped to his helmet.

Monday, July 3, 2017

From "Song For My Father"

(Sometimes you could be)

by Yusef Komunyakaa

Sometimes you could be
That man on a red bicycle,
With me on the handlebars,
Just rolling along a country road
On the edge of July, honeysuckle
Lit with mosquito hawks.
We rode from under the shady
Overhang, back into sunlight.
The day bounced off car hoods
As the heat & stinking exhaust
Brushed against us like a dragon's
Roar, nudging the bike with a tremor,
But you steered us through the flowering
Dogwood like a thread of blood.

This is one stanza of a longer poem about his father, and their complicated relationship. The whole thing is here and well worth reading. The poem makes me realize that for nearly all of us, learning to ride and our earliest bicycle experiences are also crucial Father experiences and among the lessons we learn in what a father is.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Bicycle Leaning Up Against the Wall

I'm discovering bicycles at the edge of the picture. Bicycles among the collection of props, not even in focus enough to be minor characters, nearly glanced over. But if it's true that poetry is language distilled to what is essential, and the bicycle made the cut, then its evocative presence speaks of intent. Even at rest, the bicycle is symbol.
Here are two poems where the bicycle is metaphor for what remains when the distillation is complete.


Self-Portrait as the Bootblack in Daguerre's Boulevard du Temple

by Robin Coste Lewis


(An erasure of Grant Allen's Recalled to Life)

I don't believe
I thought

or gave names
in any known language

I spoke 
of myself always

in the third person.
What led up to it,

I hadn't the faintest idea.
I only knew the Event

itself took place. Constant
discrepancies. To throw them

off, I laughed,
talked--all games

and amusements--to escape
from the burden of my own

internal history.
But I was there

trying for once
to see you,

longed so
to see you.

I might meet you
in the street:

a bicycle leaning
up against the wall

by the window. Rendered
laws of my country

played before my face.
Historical, two-souled,

forgotten, unknown
freaks of memory.

The matter of debts,
the violent death

of a near relation,
and all landing

at the faintest conception.
Dark. Blue. And then.

All I can remember
is when I saw you.

It was you
or anyone else.

The shot
seemed to end

all. It belongs
to the new world:

the Present
all entangled, unable

to move. Everything 
turned round

and looked
at you.

Robin Coste Lewis won the National Book Award for poetry in 2015 for her book Voyage of the Sable Venus. Below is Daguerre's photograph referenced in the title. It dates from 1838 and is believed to be the first photograph that captures the image of a person.

Forgetfulness

by Billy Collins


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye,
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted 
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.




Sunday, January 8, 2017

Biking To The George Washington Bridge

by Alicia Ostriker


It sweeps away depression and today
you can’t tell the heaped pin-white
cherry blossoms abloom along
Riverside Drive from the clouds above
it is all kerfluffle, all moisture and light and so
into the wind I go
past Riverside Church and the Fairway
Market, past the water treatment plant
and in the dusky triangle below
a hulk of rusted railroad bed
a single hooded boy is shooting hoops

It’s ten minutes from here to the giant bridge
men’s engineering astride the sky heroic
an animal roar of motors on it
the little red lighthouse at its foot
big brother befriending little brother
in the famous children’s story
eight minutes back with the wind behind me
passing the boy there alone shooting
his hoops in the gloom

A neighborhood committee
must have said that space
should be used for something recreational
a mayor’s aide must have said okay
so they put up basketball and handball courts
and if it were a painting or a photo
you would call it American loneliness

This was the Poem-a-Day for January 2, 2017, hosted by Poet.org
About the poem, the author said this:
“Biking to the bridge is one of my favorite activities since becoming a permanent New York City resident for the first time since I was eighteen. The bike path has the Hudson River on one side, traffic on the other, and I can do the ride in an hour door to door.  If the poem captures both the energy of the city and the sorrow and loneliness threading through it, I’ll be satisfied.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lament by Gregory Orr

Lament

by Gregory Orr

I thought of you
as I drove past
the girl kneeling
on the verge
by her upside-down
bicycle

       I know
she was only
fixing the chain
but for one moment
I saw her playing
a round harp
(and I thought of you
as I drove past).

There on the highway's
edge where gusts
from passing cars
whipped the grass
like wind off the sea
and she was kneeling,
her arms moving
among the metal spokes
plucking from them
a music lost
in the louder
impersonal sound
of traffic (and I thought
of you
as I drove past).

The girl kneeling
on the verge,
adjusting the loop
of metal links
that would propel her
into the future,
but also playing
(and I thought of you
as I drove past)
a round harp
on a desolate coast.