No Handlebars
Playlist by Verse 5 poems
Bikes powered by feet or gasoline ride through these poems. They share some sense of—freedom is too easy a word. Relief, romance, escape?
1. The Amaranth
Matthew Rohrer
2. The Understudy
Bridget Lowe
3. Centrifugal
Douglas S. Jones
4. Two Bikers Embrace on Broad Street
Ross Gay
5. The Mad House
Chika Sagawa
is an imaginary flower that never fades.
The amaranth is blue with black petals,
it’s yellow with red petals,
it’s enormous and grows into the shape
of a girl’s house,
the seeds nestle high in the closet
where she hid a boy.
The boy and his bike flee
the girl’s parents from the tip
of the leaves, green summer light
behind the veins.
The amaranth is an imaginary flower
in the shape of a girl’s house
dispensing gin and tonics
from its thorns, a succulent.
This makes the boy’s bike steer
off-course all summer, following
the girl in her marvelous car,
the drunken bike.
 
He was a small part of summer,
he was summer’s tongue.
High spring. The sounds at their
utmost registers. I am building
a language with my bike. Shame

makes the wheels go, shame
pumps its sick jet fuel.
I am flying over tiny hills with moats

of purple flowers. My fantasy
is evidence. My fantasy is a white skull
gleaming through a bed of mulch.

I let go of the handlebars and beat
my chest with shame’s gorilla fist
until the trees get in my way.

Nancy Drew before me, Nancy Drew
behind me, Nancy Drew on all
sides of me, Lord hear my prayer.
The spider living in the bike seat has finally spun
its own spokes through the wheels.
I have seen it crawl upside down, armored
black and jigging back to the hollow frame,
have felt the stickiness break
as the tire pulls free the stitches of last night’s sewing.
We’ve ridden this bike together for a week now,
two legs in gyre by daylight, and at night,
the eight converting gears into looms, handle bars
into sails. This is how it is to be part of a cycle—
to be always in motion, and to be always
woven to something else.

Maybe, since you’re something like me,
you, too, would’ve nearly driven into oncoming traffic
for gawking at the clutch between the two men
on Broad Street, in front of the hospital,
which would not stop, each man’s face
so deeply buried in the other’s neck—these men
not, my guess, to be fucked with—squeezing through
that first, porous layer of the body into the heat beneath;
maybe you, too, would’ve nearly driven over three pedestrians as your head
swiveled to lock on their lock,
their burly fingers squeezing the air from the angels
on the backs of their denim jackets
which reminds you the million and one secrets exchanged
in nearly the last clasp between your father
and his brother, during which the hospital’s chatter and rattle
somehow fell silent in deference to the untranslatable
song between them, and just as that clasp endured through
what felt like the gradual lengthening of shadows and the emergence
of once cocooned things, and continues to this day, so, too,
did I float unaware of the 3000 lb machine
in my hands drifting through a stop light while I gawked
at their ceaseless cleave going deeper,
and deeper still, so that Broad Street from Fairmount
to the Parkway reeked of the honey-scented wind
pushed from the hummingbirds now hovering above these two men,
sweetening, somehow, the air until nectar,
yes, nectar gathered at the corners of my mouth like sun-colored spittle,
the steel vehicle now a lost memory
as I joined the fire-breasted birds in listening
to air exchanged between these two men, who are, themselves,
listening, forever, to the muscled contours of the other’s neck, all of us
still, and listening, as if we had nothing
to blow up, as if we had nothing to kill.
Chika Sagawa • trans. Sawako Nakayasu
A bicycle spins.
Along a breezy path in the field.
Only the insides of the rubber wheels exhaust the earth.
He will soon arrive in Baghdad.
It is quite bustling there.
Soldiers of the Red Army, curly-haired artists, pale-skinned
  Ryazan women, the spiral staircase of the cabaret.
The piano makes tinny sounds.
People standing on a mere footprint's worth of dirt are sharpened
  crystals. One wrong step leads to death. The infinite propagation
  of the sun.
At the source of the disease the plants dry up, and the clouds
  tearing through the deteriorated city streets.
Just as the past is nothing for him but an arrangement of trees, it
  is also cold like ash.
The goose feathers at the entrance, the inverted shadow. 

I am alive. I thought, I am alive.