Various and Sundry Poetry

fresh bicycle

On the long, flat straightaways, her mountain bike
does poorly against the sleek roadsters with their
tiny, thin tires, their double-digit gears. Her legs, pedaling
too hard, are like mud, like the sludge left behind construction sites,
drying tar under a hot sun. She's used to it by now, having saved
her money for furniture instead, for her rising rent,
for a writing class, for plane fare to Hawaii, so the fact
that not even 5 miles has gone by and already she's winded
doesn't rankle her much. This is what you get with the stocky body
of a Rockhopper, which in the altitude of Tamalpais fire roads
would serve her well, dodging ditches, poison oak,
the occasional lizard darting out for a brief moment in the light.
But with traffic, and pavement, and a sea of eager cyclists
taking to the road for a weekend spin in their fine Italian jerseys,
she is a nobody, a slow poke, a mole of the road, another hazard
to avoid, like young kids on their first rollerskates, the dog walkers
with their zigzagging menagerie. But she pushes on, stopping
once for a swig of her water bottle, a handful of walnuts,
half a peanut butter sandwich, then moves on through
Sausalito's tourist traps, up the long and narrow
torture of Bridgeway, until at last a vision of red-gold
pulls her into the parking lot of Vista Point to witness
the full span of the Golden Gate, that dutiful bridge
with its dual shock of splendors to the east and west,
and there she pauses, side-sore and sweaty, while the wind
makes a frenzy of her hair.

She needs a fresh bicycle. That much she knows, eying the climb
into the Headlands, thinking of Berkeley's hillside topography.
She wants these rides, the winding redwood-studded spectaculars,
a length of road she can sail along and lose herself in, legs nestled
in their pedals, body clicked into frame, some new alignment
that lets her take the road in her best stride.

But what she's is riding now is familiar and worn,
and there's a certain allegiance to the rust under the seat,
the torn-up handlebars, the labored clacking of the gears rotating
into their slots, but also how sturdy everything feels when she reaches
a summit at last and prepares for the coast downhill, how
she can ride the flip side of Camino Alto and feel invincible,
like nothing could touch her except the wind, and it's to this
she clings, even as her lungs protest the return trip home,
the way her bike has kept her safe and upright, how she has fallen
not even once, how precisely she has known her brakes.
This is what will be hardest to let go,
despite the roads that will open before her. She will have to start
over, discover the eccentricities of new gears, the magic trick
of new pedals, the angle and shape of her body adapting to
a different kind of aerodynamics, and she knows she will be tentative
with her speed and bravado, hugging the shoulder for comfort,
because it's hard to have to learn to ride all over again,
no matter how long you've already gone, or where you've been.