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.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Two by Grace Paley




Before reading this collection I was mostly unfamiliar with Grace Paley's poetry. There's a lot of hard-earned wisdom in her work. The bike is at the periphery in these two poems, as a fit metaphor in the first and a point of perspective in the second.

A woman invented fire


A woman invented fire and called it
                                        the wheel
Was it because the sun is round
              I saw the round sun bleeding to sky
And fire rolls across the field
              from forest to treetop
It leaps like a bike with a wild boy riding it

oh    she said
              see the orange wheel of heat
light that took me from the
             window of my mother's home
to home in the evening


Having Arrived by Bike at Battery Park


I thought I would
sit down at one of those park department tables
and write a poem honoring 
the occasion which is May 25th
Evelyn   my best friend's birthday
and Willy Langbauer's birthday

Day! I love you for your delicacy
in appearing after so many years 
as an afternoon in Battery Park right
on the curved water
where Manhattan was beached

At once arrows
straight as Broadway were driven
into the great Indian heart

Then we came from the east
seasick and safe the
white tormented people
grew fat in the 
blood of that wound


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Two by Billy Collins



January In Paris

Poems are never completed - they are
only abandoned
   - Paul Valéry

That winter I had nothing to do
but tend the kettle in my shuttered room
on the top floor of a pensione near a cemetery,

but I would sometimes descend the stairs,
unlock my bicycle, and pedal along the cold city streets
often turning from a wide boulevard
down a narrow side street
bearing the name of an obscure patriot.

I followed a few private rules,
never crossing a bridge without stopping
mid-point to lean my bike on the railing
and observe the flow of the river below
as I tried to better understand the French.

In my pale coat and my Basque cap
I pedaled past the windows of a patisserie
or sat up tall in the seat, arms folded,
and clicked downhill filling my nose with winter air.

I would see beggars and street cleaners
in their bright uniforms, and sometimes
I would see the poems of Valéry,
the ones he never finished but abandoned,
wandering the streets of the city half-clothed.

Most of them needed only a final line
or two, a little verbal flourish at the end,
but whenever I approached,
they would retreat from their ashcan fires
into the shadows - thin specters of incompletion.

forsaken for so many long decades
how could they ever trust another man with a pen?

I came across the one I wanted to tell you about
sitting with a glass of rosé at a café table -
beautiful, emaciated, unfinished,
cruelly abandoned with a flick of panache

by Monsieur Paul Valéry himself,
big fish in the school of Symbolism
and for as time president of the Committee of Arts and Letters
of the League of Nations if you please.

Never mind how I got her out of the café,
past the concierge and up the flight of stairs -
remember that Paris is the capital of public kissing.

And never mind the holding and the pressing.
It is enough to know that I moved my pen
in such a way as to bring her to completion,

a simple, final stanza, which ended,
as this poem will, with the image
of a gorgeous orphan lying on a rumpled bed,
her large eyes closed,
a painting of cows in a valley over her head,

and off to the side, me in a window seat
blowing smoke from a cigarette at dawn.

Billy Collins

from Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems
Isn't it best and right to explore every new lace by bike? And who hasn't dreamed of living for a time in the City of Light?

Cemetery Ride

My new copper-colored bicycle
is looking pretty fine under a blue sky
as I pedal along one of the sandy paths
in the Palm Cemetery here in Florida,

Wheeling past the headstones of the Lyons,
the Campbells, the Dunlaps, and the Davenports,
Arthur and Ethel, who outlived him by 11 years
I slow down even more to notice,

but not so much as to fall sideways on the ground.
And here's a guy named Happy Grant
next to his wife Jean in their endless bed.
Annie Sue Sims is right there and sounds

a lot more fun than Theodosia S. Hawley.
And good afternoon, Emily Polasek
and to you too, George and Jane Cooper,
facing each other in profile, two sides of a coin.

I wish I could take you all for a ride
in my wire basket on this glorious April day,
not a thing as simple as your name, Bill Smith,
even trickier than Clarence Augustus Coddington.

Then how about just you, Enid Parker?
Would you like to gather up your voluminous skirts
and ride side-saddle on the crossbar
and tell me what happened between 1863 and 1931?

I'll even let you ring the silver bell.
But if you're not ready, I can always ask
Mary Brennan to rise from her long sleep
beneath the swaying gray beards of Spanish moss

and ride with me along these halls of the dead
so I can listen to her strange laughter
as some crows flap overhead in the blue
and the spokes of my wheels catch the dazzling sun.

Billy Collins

from Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems

Again a cemetery. Billy Collins recently, like the poet Mary Oliver, relocated from the Northeast to Florida. It's good to know he also rides with a basket and a bell.