He rode “no hands,” speeding
headlong down the hill near
our house, his arms extended,
held rigid away from his body,
our small daughter behind him
on the bike in her yellow sunsuit,
bare-headed. She held on to him
for her life. I watched them from
above—helpless failed brake.
Far below us, a stop-sign rose
like a child’s toy shield. He could
not stop, he would not. That hunger
for display over-rode danger, illusions
of safety. Even death had less to do
with it than the will’s eventual triumph
over stasis: how he’d finally fly free
and how she might accompany him,
as an audience travels with a performer,
an object of regard. Downward, fast—
so what cannot stop holds on, holds on
in a mind flying away from itself, seeking
release from the soul speeding away, yet
staying close as breath, even at this distance.
Copyright © 2014 by Carol Muske-Dukes. Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Paris Review. Used with permission of the author.
I’m on a bike and someone’s name is forming.
The road is potholes the road is dust.
Cruising the dirt, the meadow humming with bugs.
Dust rising, tires crushing rock, bats ejecting from under the barn
streaming the insected air the pulse life repeating life looping back
slowing down getting longer though it didn’t and isn’t.
A little letting go of fear.
A little spittle in death’s eye.
Don’t ask don’t think (I didn’t ask or think).
Didn’t think don’t think.
I remember giving in to it lying back and then
little sprout of willow
spray of the earth green of leaves the light coming down
as if through a ferny veil dirty primal randomly animate
and we are in it still.
From The Uses of the Body, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2015 by Deborah Landau. Reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press.
You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can't remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.
Copyright © 2020 by Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Saturday mornings were science fiction—
That is, on that day anything was possible.
We didn’t have to go to the movies for that,
Though when we did, we were introduced to ourselves
More than anything. Ourselves in rockets,
Ourselves taking chances, ourselves speaking to the universe.
Outside of the movies, we were still in them—
Our bikes were our rockets, our submarines, our jets.
But mostly, and first, our bikes were our horses
In this childhood West, a loyal, red Western Flyer
Taking me everywhere, up and down, fast and slow.
Only later did I understand it was my own legs
That did it all. My own legs and my arms to steer,
My own small, mighty lungs to shout—
A shout that would later become a song.
When they weren’t horses, when my legs were tired,
When the shouts calmed down into just talking,
We bike-riders would sit, and find in that talking
The gold we had been looking for, though we didn’t know it.
The gold was made of plans for Saturdays still to come—
We each had different ideas, but we all had them,
Speaking them confidently as if we were lions,
Deep-voiced and sure even in that quietude.
What would happen next was far away,
But even as we rested, something in us knew
We would catch the future no matter how fast it ran.
Copyright © 2023 by Alberto Ríos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Big around as my bike helmet and high as my ankle, the box turtle
was halfway from my side of the road
to the other. The warm sun felt delicious;
my legs, strong, and it was almost
to the center line. I hadn’t been passed by a car
for miles. Figuring if it was still there, I’d pick it up
on the way back, I cycled past.
the woman across the street was shaped like that turtle,
or more like a toadstool, really, squat bell
of a body atop the thin stalks of her legs, milky and bare
beneath her frayed black housedress. It hurt her to move—clear
even from my second-story window—so she brought
her trash out in increments, in small, bursting
grocery bags. She tossed each out the door onto the porch, then
nudged them, one step to the next, before easing—carefully,
painfully—herself down, a step at a time. Then she toed them,
finally, slowly, slowly into a crumpled heap at the curb. I left
my window to help; then took her trash out every week after.
I hadn’t yet
told it to my wife, had I?
But there was the turnaround
quicker than expected and I spun
to find a beat-down bus trailed by all the fuming cars
that hadn’t passed me.
Steadying my handlebars against the wind,
I rode back hard, dodging around crushed
squirrels and tire-splayed birds.
was just where I’d left it, but with the top of its shell
torn away. The dead turtle,
a raw red bowl, its blood slashing the twinned yellow lines
into an unequal sign,
as in a ≠ b, as in thinking about doing the right thing
is not the same as doing it. As in, how many times
did I watch that old woman shuffle bags down the stairs
(really, how many?) before I went from watching
to helping? As in, with my wife beside me
I am the woman who does not hesitate
to lay down her bike and give a small life
safe passage. As in, I biked slowly
home, told no one. As in:
Will she love me
less when she learns
I am not equal
to the person I am when she is watching?
From Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books, 2019) by Jessica Jacobs. Used with permission of the author.
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
Copyright © 2017 by Alicia Ostriker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
he came back
to my mother’s mother’s
house, missing a finger.
He and my grandmother
drank Old Crow for hours,
swiveled in the torn white
vinyl seats in her kitchen,
forearms draping the edge
of her glass-topped table.
I’d asked what happened,
eyeing the empty near his pinkie.
He said while sleep on the tracks
a transit train ran over this hand.
He was able to pull back—mostly—
all except for the ring finger,
which sat under a rail in Metuchen.
My grandmother inched in, offered:
So what, Sonny, you holdin’
whiskey like a man ain’t
lost a damn thing.
He laughed like royalty
at court, head thrown back.
Turned toward me to change
subject, asked if I had a bike.
Said he saw some kids
on Stuyvesant ridingbadass
10-speed name brands.
I declined. He warned best to
want than refuse what’s free.
Told me to expect one,
like other kids, on Christmas.
His eyes seemed clouded, though.
Squinty. He kept blotting his fore-
head with a torn paper towel.
The hand with one finger gone
missing—kept scratching, tugging
at his face, his arms, his legs--
where my grandmother’s cat,
Camelot, rubbed against
my father’s hems revealing
a pair of mismatched socks:
one white with his blood
seeping through the ankle
the other, brown & unclean.
Copyright © 2014 by Airea D. Matthews. Originally published in The Indiana Review Vol. 36, Issue 1, 2014. Used with the permission of the poet.