Various and Sundry Poetry

as slow as I need to

Riding the steep grade toward the bridge,
I’m in low gear, calves clenched, motorists taking the hill
like it was nothing, like an afterthought,
and I’m wondering, mid-incline, if my legs
will give out, if I will need to unpin myself
from the pedals and walk the rest of the way,
wondering if I will ever take these hills
as joyrides, as cheerful obstacles, if I have it
in me to lean into the thrum of the hard wind
and barrel through, if I could dip any further
toward parallel, body symmetrical with road,
if I am capable of such alignment.

Last week, the day of reckoning, luggage
in hand, three trips to the garage to pick up
the rest, whatever I could muster in my car, leaving
for a greener pasture I’d yet to identify, I took
a last look at the mantle, where our picture was,
taken by your friend three summers ago when we were
in the airy prelude of love. How we leapt through
the streets for that camera, clutching at each other
like newfound objects. We were precious then, jewels
glinting in the June sun, dual sparklers of light,
and in the frame were are leaning in to kiss,
all smiles, all hope, like it was nothing, a joyride,
like the absence of a hard wind, which we could not have,
then, seen coming. That photograph, which was always
the first thing I saw entering our house, is now the last,
as I drag my red suitcase behind me, plucking the bits of mail
from the coffee table, gathering the ephemera of my evidence,
and shutting the door.

Days later, I am wondering if I made a mistake,
been too hasty, powering through this latest rough patch in
my heart’s highest gear, wondering if I’d worked the turns
with too much muscle, if I should have, instead,
simply walked the length of trouble however long it turned out to be,
concede to the granular passage of time. I told you I couldn’t match
your cadence, that I wanted a view, exhilaration,
a stretch of pure deliverance, you and me in tandem,
streaked with grace and good fortune, wind at our backs,
the whole of us sailing through air, almost weightless.

Of course here, on this hill, I am all weight, all plodding ordinariness,
slow as a turtle, the opposite of dazzle, and I’m thinking not of the crest,
or the view, or the blissful downhill just past the lip of the next bend.
The famous coastline on my left I barely notice.
Instead, I’m eying the road, this thoroughfare I realize, now, I’ve chosen
not for its smooth sailing but for its pull and ache, for the time it takes,
for the way it cajoles me to move as slow as I need to
and still stay upright. I picked this grinding passage,
this labored path around a city notorious for its hills
when I could have easily held reign over the flatter Avenues,
mightily notching up my mileage. But even sluggish and sweaty
I see I am moving through this terrain and its wrenching whimsy,
and spite of the wind, I am getting somewhere, I know it,
and it’s close.