Sunday, July 31, 2011

No Hands

Nearly home, I take my hands
from the bar and the bike tracks straight.
My long shadow fills the road as
I sit up and look around, and
the earth is alive with the wind's breath.
The bike wants to stay upright, a friend says--
comforting personification that makes us a team,
this willful soul-giving to a machine.
My hands fall to my sides, as slight shifts
in my weight—automatic, really--
keep the course now. Balance and motion:
what more do I truly need?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rise

Free me from my tired refrains:
Not good enough, will never be
as I sing it again, love in vain,
looking for years, unable to see.

Balance what I feel and what I know,
like the cycling moon, light and dark.
It takes effort to keep doors closed--
is that better than a shot off its mark?

Anything lived is never really gone.
Find words to forgive, but not forget.
Lines in my heart run on and on,
and tomorrow and I have not met.

Words, imprecise, always taste of surprise.
With the winding road, may I also rise.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Teach

Spend a day with us in a crowded, hot room:
Read the roster, have a plan, pick up the book.
Tell me then that the 2:35 bell comes too soon.
They're all here: leaders, dreamers and crooks.

Society's motley progeny arrives at our door.
Country's falling behind, we've heard for years.
Give all, but be prepared when asked for more.
Still, success outweighs failure, to be clear.

I cringe, look away, when I hear kids these days--
we were all there, wandering in some hazy past,
finding our way through an adolescent maze.
Remember time's river, flowing deep and fast.

Do not ever let a shaky grasp limit reach.
Know that those who can, will always teach.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

One-Way Eyes

Prone to rage and shame,
I'm a weapon with no aim.
Pushing away whoever's close,
test those I need the most.

It's harder to write than revise,
looking out from one-way eyes.

Pictures have scripts that fit:
that's me, the kid who can't hit.
Quiet and gifted, sent away;
lived it then, feel it here today.

Look back too long, this moment dies,
looking out from one-way eyes.

I'm in the cave, can't stop--
keep the drill to the rock.
Remember a touch, laugh, smile,
so much softer back a while.

How present am I, feeling old highs?
Looking out from one-way eyes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Believer

Looking at my T-shirt
with its quick slashes of ink
human-like outstretched arms
forming a Chinese character
standing for peace I believe
you asked
small gold cross hanging
around your tanned neck
Are you a believer
And I said yes
which is always a good answer
I believe
and still do
even as our minds
drew different conclusions
or so I believe

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Morning Mirror

Reaching out, bristly
and stiff, shades of brown and gray
greet me after dreams
retreat like nocturnal beasts.
In the mirror, a day's growth.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Water Over Rock

Look away from the relentless clock.
Change is not always something seen.
Give me the patience of water over rock.

Tense already, as I wake with a shock--
Am I running too rich or too lean?
Look away from the cruel, mocking clock.

How to carve myself out of this stifling block?
Michelangelo's angel was there, unseen.
Give me the patience of water over rock.

What will summon inspiration's knock?
I climb a green hill to see where I've been,
and turn away from the indifferent clock.

In a small boat freed from the dock,
I think of waves, and lulls in between.
Give me the patience of water over rock.

Soon, words become keys to the locks:
my habits, faults, allegiance to routine,
tied to the unfeeling, cold clock.
Give me the patience of water shaping rock.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Where You Going?

Twilight, and I pilot my bike
down an empty city street.
Pastel pink and blue softens
silent gray concrete.
A flashing sign: “Detour,”
arrow pointing left—I stop,
things happen.

My mind wanders (those wheels never stop)
and I'm a farmer in my head, end of
the day, wondering about my crops,
if it's a good year, and how long I will
continue to till and sow these familiar,
lonesome fields of bachelorhood.

Wheelchair man, doing quick spins
mid-street, as if dancing to music,
rolls up, stops. Vietnam vet, he says.

His hands, black from the chair's wheels; his
pot belly, creeping out from his shirt; his
gray stubble; rattly coffee cup containing three
Canadian dollars and not much more, he tells me.
Do you work for the police?

More questions: Where do you live, how far
have you gone?
Me, to him: Where you going?
Got no home, he says. Going to Troy. The street breathes,
I keep my wondering quiet for now, let
the canyon-echo traffic fill the space.

A cab appears, he hails it.
Cabbie, heavy subcontinent accent, loads his
suitcase, the chair. Where you going? More mumbles,
the cup rattles, and I wonder what I have
in my back pocket.

Another moment hangs, a dangling
cigarette in his lip, unlit, as I wait
for something to happen.

Take care, bud, I say twice.
You, too.

The cabbie drops the lever into drive,
and pulls away. Where you going?

Good question.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Going Somewhere?

Rank, file and legion
in the large, mirrored room,
lines of runners, belts spinning
furiously beneath them,
humming insect drone--
they run hard and fast,
gaining no ground,
eyes ahead, fixed on screens
filled with beautiful people
that the runners can't
quite reach.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Conditioned

I sit, shades drawn, windows shut
against the piercing heat of a
July day that feels closer to the sun,
pale fingers on cool black keys,
phone chirping with heat alerts
and news of cooling stations--
maybe I'll doze off in my conditioned
air, and dream of a paleolithic me,
sun-burnished and bare-footed,
maybe a spear in my hand,
making quick time over
hot dusty ground, picking berries or
tracking a beast—will I wake in
shame, in my cool artificial twilight,
that narrow island of comfort,
remembering that brave, burnished
hard man, under a slightly younger sun
that's just as hot, just as fierce?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Waiting

I am a boat in irons
waiting for a kind wind
to sail me on, sure and steady,
ready to begin again.

A flute lies still
waiting for an unseen hand
and the promise of breath
to play a song like no other can.

An ember glows, pulsing
brightly on this darkest night--
warm me, raise my own flame,
call on me to dance again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alpine Race

Light and shadow, as trees filter
sunlight onto a humble Italian road.
Capricious turns, no clear lines of sight
and the race is with those around them.
Shoulders rock in rhythmic shrugs,
a twitch, a tic, unnatural anywhere else
and the strong riders emerge from
the proletariat pack, like seeds sprung
from shells now discarded, shooting forth,
sprouting instantly as the road climbs.
The top is just the beginning of the
downhill exam, all physics and geometry:
compound curves, acute angles of
bent riders and sinuous road, with
extra credit for steeled nerves.
Then, a rush to the line, in a single rider's
tunnel vision of barricades and booming voices
as, for the first time in hours, he unfolds, sits up--
eyes behind mirrors, the arms aloft say it all
and, by now, the wheels know where to go.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Broken Mirrors

Broken mirrors are
what I have: fierce edges where
reflection ends, so
difficult to hold, but true—
as true as anything is.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Ex" Marks the Spot

Not a cross to bear--
more like “ex” marks the spot
of unexpected treasure,
found without a map.

Thank you, sun-freckled summer girl,
for saying, early on,
boxers, not briefs,
even if the time wasn't long.

Thank you, with your curling energy,
for saying maybe it is
right after I said
everything feels alright.

Thank you, eyes like mine,
for a kiss and its encore,
coming back more beautifully,
a comet swinging closer.

Thank you, so warm and dark,
for praising my backside
in front of the salesgirl as she
handed me a pair of jeans.

Thank you, fellow teacher,
for being my stand-up partner
even when we weren't
until the laughs ran out.

Thank you, the only blonde,
for rousing me from winter blues
with a sudden spring--
or was it a pounce?

Lines intersecting, then continuing,
leaving a mark on my axis,
even if I ask, rhetorically now,
ex and why?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Old Paint

The blue paint chipped
and I took the scraper to
it—now the question is
where to stop. Layers
of colors underneath,
then down to the bone
of the original plaster
over lath—the paint peels
off in flat flakes, elegant curls,
tiny chips, a confetti pile on
the floor, someone else's work
being undone as I continue--
a small patch, a couple inches,
expanding, with a will of
its own, not straight, but in
arcing curves over the
panels on the door, shapes
humorous and terrifying--
I pause, step back, aware
of another scraper, picking
away at mind-layers, years and colors,
working in the dark, by feel
at best—where to stop?
I pick up a piece of sandpaper,
feather the paint as best I can,
step back slowly, to the point
where things look good--
good enough—if I don't
look too long.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

School's Summer

An empty classroom, a floor like a sheet
of ice, reflects summer light from outside,
slight scent of wax lingering. A light wind in
the hall, and the school breathes easy.

The room reaches, wide and empty--
walls and board clean and bare.
Everything's been moved out:
furniture to the hallways, students

scattered like seeds, sprouting into
summer months, under high sun.
Here, real work has been done--
those who came before, turning

twenty-five, twenty-six or more,
somewhere, carrying something
from here—no one enters or exits
a room without taking something

and leaving something else.
Endings and beginnings, stories
crafted in four quarters, two semesters.
Now, no bells, but the slow pulse

of summer's time, measured in
light and darkness, heat and relief--
leading to a chance, in a while,
to pick up the pen, to start again.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wild World

Forget how many times
you've heard it, forget
the re-makes, karaoke takes
but remember when I say
that tonight, I heard
Cat—Yousef--sing it,
I felt the longing,
the love and loss
inviting me in, through
every string on that
Telecaster, with every
thump of the kick drum,
every dip and rise in
his forlorn gray voice--
my heart vibrating
sympathetic notes,
overtones of my own--
the song a mirror, for
him, me, us—we go
back, look at ourselves
in its reflected light,
the same and not the
same, we see, before
we turn away, as the
last chord fades.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Calling

Walking in with that
comforting sameness,
two black triangles with
hints of white, the nuns come
through the double doors,
out of the sunset into the
cold hallway light,
shifting side to side
in heavy black shoes,
gold rimmed glasses,
little wisps of gray peeking
out from their habits--
they amble past quietly,
until, suddenly, a
lilting Latin rhythm,
all blinding sunshine
and undulating bodies,
clear even in ring-tone
miniature, escapes from
beneath the dark folds,
sultry and sweet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ten Years In

Live in a house long enough
and you'll paint things more than
once. I know ceilings, cabinets,
walls well now, ten years in.

I see where your hands have been:
that baseboard, painted just up to
where something used to be--
your desk? Then, dingy old paint

from there to the corner. So
many places you missed, or just
didn't see. Then again, my attention
to detail--never seeing the whole.

Perfectionists never really finish
anything. Maybe that's why I paint
and paint again, no matter if
it's colors or words.

Later, I scrape dirt and grease
from kitchen cabinets, layered on
out of sight up top—how many
curries, stir-fries, burgers left

their marks here, even as they
filled us, sustained us? I labor,
scrub, clean well--but I don't get
it all. Something always remains.

House and heart—today,
telling similar stories.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Evening

Summer settling in
at evening and the
humidity loosens
its grip as a woman
runs through a leafy park
sneaker cinder rhythm
and the setting sun lights
up her hair and makes
a halo of it flashing
on and off as she
moves under the trees.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Race Report: Pawling Mountain Road Race, Sunday, July 10, 2011

I tried my best to get to bed early, but it didn't happen. My nocturnal habits have returned since the school year ended. Fitful sleep, early alarm. So be it. Sun in the sky at 5 a.m. helped. Loaded up and headed out, two hour drive to a race that would probably take an hour. Oh well--runners travel farther for a 5K.

It was a pretty drive down through Columbia County, taking the Taconic past familiar roads where I've built whatever fitness I have. Hanging with the regulars on Tuesdays this year is definitely encouraging.

I got to Pawling without enough time to ride the course at anything resembling a reasonable pace. There wasn't even enough time to drive it. I did drive in over the last couple miles of the course, which were pretty hairy—a short climb and a twisty descent on rough pavement, with ever-larger mammals jumping out in front of me. I told myself it wasn't an omen.

I signed in and saw a couple other riders from CBRC, made some small talk: Are you ready? Ready as I'll be. Really—what rider says, “Oh yeah, I've been riding lots, and feeling super strong”? I got in a decent 20-minute warm-up, which I figured was enough for an hour-long race. Lots of down-state/NYC/Connecticut club kits, and more women than our boys' club rides usually attract.

Usually, my nerves are at their worst the night before a race. The morning of, not so bad. For some reason, though, I was really nervous rolling up to the start. Not sure why--maybe too much coffee. It thankfully went away once we started riding, as I settled in about 20 riders back in our group of around 50. We had a “neutral start”—no racing right from the line—and I wasn't sure where it ended, as the pace picked up only a bit. Everybody was pretty well-behaved and predictable.

I dropped my chain around mile four, off the OUTSIDE of the big ring. The cranks started spinning uselessly and my bike made a sound like an old man reaching into an ample pocket of change. So much for thinking I had my derailleurs dialed perfectly. I back-pedaled for about 20 seconds before the chain popped back on, with guys yelling at me to drop back the whole time—to where? I was on the outside, right at the double yellow. To stop would mean getting dropped before even really starting. There's no team car with a spare bike in amateur racing. But, hey, it worked out, even though I lost about ten places.

The easy pace continued, but I think we all knew the race would get a lot harder around mile seven, at the beginning of a two-mile climb. That's just what happened, as riders rose out of their saddles, heart rates spiked, breathing became labored. The climb quickly split the field right in front of me—which, for some reason, happens often. Then, the question: bridge to the group ahead or not? That move might work, or it might lead to me blowing up, and being caught in that lonely space between groups. Since I didn't know the course, I climbed at my own pace. Two miles, around six percent grade, seated, at about 85 percent of my capacity.

There was a guy in a Monadnock jersey who was doing these strong attacks, rising and sprinting. I resisted the bait and did my own thing, which worked out because he'd always drift back. Over the top, I slowly passed him, and he grabbed my wheel. We worked together on the descent, and the flat bit that followed, eventually catching four other riders. It's a sweet feeling, cranking along, then letting off the gas for a few seconds as that last little gap closes, into that quiet cone of shelter. We got a ragged pace line going, with lots of shouting but not much understanding. Maybe I should cat up, I thought briefly, but that might involve riding alone more often, watching even more riders shrink away ahead of me. Maybe next year.

Bike racing is more fun for me when I'm in a group. It was at this point that the race got interesting. Good riders can study others quickly: pick out the strong, steady ones; avoid the wobbly, slower ones. I rode well, taking short pulls, but somehow ending up back out front quickly.

Our alliance of six strengthened as we covered a few more miles. Hopes soared as we discussed how many—or how few—riders were in front of us. Hard left, past the marshals' orange flags, and we spotted more riders on the next climb: bait for our hungry gruppetto. We passed them, yelled “grab a wheel,” but none did. There's such a huge range of ability and fitness at this admittedly lower level of competition that riders do get very spread out on the road.

Soon we were on the last climb, the one I'd reconnoitered from the car. I was out front, and I set an easy pace—go ahead and pass if you want, then you pull. Whatever our overall standings in the race, it was fun to use strategy for once. In the past, if I was out front, I'd feel a need to push the pace. I guess I'm learning.

Watching my computer, I knew the end was coming, so I tucked in behind the biggest rider in the group, to whom I'd later properly introduce myself. He looked around every once and a while, inviting me to pull up, but I declined. The six riders reshuffled places for a bit, little tests and bursts. The speed picked up as we neared the countdown: signs placed at 200, 100 and 50 meters.

I've never truly sprinted for the line in a race before, but it seemed inevitable. We were all in the bar drops, and I felt good, right behind the big guy. A couple others came around, and I jumped, sat in for a moment, then came around. Out of our six, I passed four just before the line. So it wasn't for first place—it was still a rush, the best moment of the race.

We coasted down the road afterward, made quick introductions and gave animated re-caps, all in that sweet post-race euphoria.

I grabbed lunch with some other CBRC riders—and Terry, my lead-out man, who, it turns out, is a really cool dude. "Jeez, Terry," I said, "if I'd have know you were such a nice guy... "

The cold, hard facts: I placed 17th out of 44 finishers in my field, riding 20 miles in 58 minutes and nine seconds. Sure, I want to do better in the next race. But, as I hope I've shown, there's much more to it than that.

For another description of the sprint, click here.

For a run-down of my rather average race results, click here.

Haiku

The past? A still pond,
reflecting. The present is
a rising river.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sprint

Tucked in behind a big wall of a rider
where the only wind I hear
is the steam-train staccato
of my own breaths
roughly in time with the
pistons of my legs
six riders hustle and jostle
filling the cracked
country tarmac
blurring colors and voices
and a row of signs
counting down the meters
miles behind us spent
playing cards
dealing out and holding back
now the sweet spot
sheltered for as long
as possible until a
break right—no, left--
into the wind
hunched at the bar
saddle swinging like
a pendulum counting
out the final seconds
narrow-eyed animal focus
on the line ahead
throw the bike over the line
then everything goes slack--
and we are human again,
grinning like kids, a slap
on the back--
Good race, man.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Not Trying

The cat again by my side on the desk
legs tucked underneath
slow breaths
a quiet Saturday night outside
occasional sizzle of cars
fans and air conditioners
voices underneath my window
people come and go from
parked cars up to the bars
my computer hums and
the lights are on downstairs like
there is someone in the living room
but there isn't and I have been monkish
nothing particularly social today
or yesterday for that matter
wait for love to come to you
it will happen when you're not trying

friends have said to me--
well
I'm not trying and doing really well
at it on this Saturday night
even clean-shaven and showered
in front of my computer and the
clicking of the keys that surely
would be silenced if whoever
she is—you know, the next one--
were here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Classroom

Is it my classroom, or theirs?
It's mine, of course, as they see me
whether I wish it or not,
as the man, the one causing
friction against their free-wheeling
self-possession and assurance
that they have this all figured out--
me, this guy, khakis and tie,
some gray at the temples,
who has designs on their freedoms,
via the theater of grades and discipline,
to keep them docile, when all I want
is for them to see these woods,
feel them, the way our protagonist does,
be there, crunching twigs underfoot,
but they are too much here, this
fluorescent prison, with a phone vibrating
in a pocket—a message from
anywhere but here. I try to show them
the seasons of a man—it won't always be
like this—but they will only see it all
in some red-shifted future,
when everything recedes. Now, feet on desks,
studied indifference, and a hardness in
some like a dare. The bell rings,
the sound of a round declared a draw.
Try again tomorrow.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday Ride

Summer, and it's light 'til late--
Why write a poem when you can ride a bike
in a shape-shifting group, stretching out
and bunching up with gear clicks
and conversation and always a
whoosh by the ears
past athletic fields with pinging bats
as the pavement follows the land
up into the sunset to that ridge
you can see from all around
and you know you're getting up there
when you see spindly metal towers
sprouting antennae and shouting
god-knows-what to whomever
then down a chattery road
like the devil's stubble under
the wheels then onto a
smooth false flat down
a chain of six riders inside the wind
as we unzip the evening air,
animal alertness and vision wide.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dove and State, 6:30

A woman in the rain
not really running
but taking large
prancing steps
knees elbows wrists
all bent
a small purse
in one hand
not the way one
would run
from a fire or
to a lover
frankly she's no
match for a steady
but gentle rain--
still she's a
bright spot
on the gray corner
of Dove and State.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Royalty

In the corner of the living room,
the cat sits on his worn scratcher,
a rectangle of cardboard with stringy tassels.
He surveys his terrain: a dusty floor, his bowl and plate.
His tail wraps around, parallel to his generous body,
a slight dip in his spine--
He sits, front paws extended regally,
chin held high, fur radiant in a shaft of light--
sated, stomach full of kibble.
He sits, still, eyes now closed,
whiskers at ease,
oblivious, maybe dreaming--
a pharaoh on his barge, Egyptian royalty,
Bastet's prince, gliding slowly
down the broad, quiet Nile.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Postures

The sun, low and lean,
cuts across the country road.

In my mirror,
a young rooster poses, slouched
in the center of his impeccably
clean silver car,
barks words I'll never hear
or miss into his phone,
arm bent, hand cocked.

Out my window,
a dull yellow bus in the weeds
has dispersed sun-brown men
now bent at the waist,
bodies speaking of labor,
stories in their frames,
hands in the ground,
in the damp earth.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hudson Avenue, 10 p.m.

Sepia streetlight, gold patina
on green leaves. A vine of ink emerges
from a short sleeve. Pre-fourth fireworks
like distant thunder or gunfire,
sharp reports bouncing off
the cool, hard plaza. A bouquet of pink
in the sky, for a moment.
A sing-song voice, words indistinct
behind closed windows. More jagged,
weedy leaves in my impatiens
the longer I look. One piece
of neon at the corner--
Lark Street calling.
The sameness of tires
on pavement. And there
I am, on the stoop, under
the light. A sailboat in irons,
waiting for the wind's push,
this way or that.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hands

Shaking or holding,
our hands touching won't ever
be just hands touching.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Spotted

The spotted fawn came
out of the woods, into the road
and toward me, astride my bike.
She—for the hoof clicks on pavement
sounded like heels—strode, paused,
looked, twitched for a lingering moment,
then, as a car approached,
sprung off into the green
with a grace and ease
any cyclist would admire.

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...