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
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
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?"
in ten seconds. She
her wings like a little cough.)
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."
To be young.
To shrug it off:
But, ah sweet
day you too may be
of regrets, catastrophes.
A clay animation
of Psalm 73 (but
as for me, my feet...). No. It will be
Psalm 48: They
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
this time I was beside you.
I waited, and I saved you.
I was there.
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.
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
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,
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 -
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
crumbs off the kitchen table with a sponge, remembering
of this -
those boys still waiting
outside the Stop-N-Go, smoking
cigarettes, growing older.
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
over and over to tell this story
to everyone I knew,
and my father, a very young man,
came down there looking for you.