by Max Lasky
Across the street I hear brakes screech
and think of the bike shop
I worked not ten years back,
the scent of rubber in the store,
think of the boys who popped wheelies
and dodged cars in the parking lot,
swerving in and out
as they cursed, taunting each other
like stray dogs, barking when one lands
a new trick, looking as if
they haven’t bathed, mangy, beads of sweat
streaking skin, might never bathe again.
Bloodthirsty, they’re bleeding
at the elbows, palms and knees,
cranking to go faster, harder,
shifting weight from pedal
to pedal, looking for a fight or some light
inside themselves that might save
their friends, knowing only the street.
This one’s mother’s a glass pipe,
his father a flame, there’s fire
painted on his bike frame,
likely stolen, they call him Dirt Gremlin.
Steve C.’s working in the back
making miracles happen,
working for cheap, his touch
magic with a spoke wrench in hand
spinning a wheel at the truing stand.
Kenny Mad Dog Lombard
waits restlessly for five p.m.
to throw bottles back until closing.
Stickered and graffitied, the noon heat pours in
through the backdoor,
rich girls in bikinis walk by
and the boys whistle, hoot,
taking the opportunity to impress
because the opportunity presented itself,
at least in their heads. Like pain,
like a challenge, they stay out
all day and all night, skipping dinner,
skipping class, not knowing
none of this can ever last.
Which means it could easily be me
riding the rims of minimum wage,
my hands stained black, laying
tracks on each tool, each dollar bill
I touched, all those hours
lined in broken spokes, rusted chains.
After all, I’m only visiting
again, now that a decade has passed
since I last worked this shop with two other men.
I want to tell the Dirt Gremlin
one friend will OD, another
will get clean, I want to tell him
some will move away and some will stay.
Everything changes. And the change
seems strange, and not at all that different.
I can almost hear him say
my life’s a vacation. It’s enough
to make a boy want to ghost ride
his bike into the stunted pines
at the dead end, and leave the future behind.