Always, there was Mrs. Spilchen’s caraganas,
ready to hang my forays up for ridicule.
And across the street,
Mrs. Kreiger’s petunia pots,
far enough away,
but unnerving for the penalty they implied.
Greater, I feared, than these scrapes
on my face and forearms.
Once more I hear my sister’s words—
coaxing mixed with caution—see her stand firm,
gripping the seat to steady the red frame.
Once more I climb and straddle the Schwinn,
then comes the push, the slight grade,
the front tire tremble,
the lurch and looming pitch,
then poise to counterpoise;
and past my grandmother’s house,
I gain balancing-speed.
And just there, if I had had the time,
I would have shown you the science
that proved this boy and balloon-tired bike,
the centre of the universe.
But I have other things on my mind: the wind
shocking my hair, willow body
bending into the hill past the Baptist church,
riding in the resurrection of White Rose
Gas, Springside Café, Skea’s General Store,
the dark-dirt alleys
angling away in my wake,
all the way up Main, to Railway—
no thought of a coaster brake.
Steering a circle past the Credit Union,
begins the infinite progression of Pool Hall,
Barber Shop, Laube’s Dry Goods,
Post Office, Hotel, lumber yard,
straight up to the BA, where I
turn west past the telephone exchange,
cross train tracks, and on to Elysium.
I hear the car tires behind,
turn sharp into the quackgrass,
fall under the frame,
feel my sister’s absence.
Nothing to do but stand on one pedal,
hop half a block on one foot,
swing my leg up and over,
graze crotch on crossbar,
recall small flesh flags on branches,
feel the chain tighten and pull on sprockets,
laugh at the gravel embedded in elbows,
feel the world again
roll beneath my leather feet
like a log in water.
Rolling past the intersections,
the brick school, the yellow bus, the birthdays,
the anniversaries, children, grandchild.
Past the cenotaph in the centre of the street,
below the Town Hall bell,
tolling out the losses that signal
the end of this balancing act.
The slackening chain, missing teeth,
broken links, bent spokes,
loss of wind, the downhill drift,
the preference for little else.
West of town there’s a dismount.
I will leave my bike here,
in the rain, the rust, released,
to long lean on the kickstand.
As a book on a shelf, I’ll not open again.