Bicycle Poem

Saw this on The Writer’s Almanac this morning. If you quote it or reproduce it, note that it’s by Deborah Slicer (of whom I know nothing), and it’s Copyright 2003. It’s also good to note, as the Almanac does, that the volume in which it appears, “The White Calf Kicks,” may be purchased via (support your local poet!).

Outside of Richmond, Virginia, Sunday

(Deborah Slicer, Copyright 2003)

It’s the kind of mid-January afternoon—

the sky as calm as an empty bed,

fields indulgent,

black Angus finally sitting down to chew—

that makes a girl ride her bike up and down the same muddy track of road

between the gray barn and the state highway

all afternoon, the black mutt

with the white patch like a slap on his rump

loping after the rear tire, so happy.

Right after Sunday dinner

until she can see the headlights out on the dark highway,

she rides as though she has an understanding with the track she’s opened up in

the road,

with the two wheels that slide and stutter in the red mud

but don’t run off from under her,

with the dog who knows to stay out of the way but to stay.

And even after the winter cold draws tears,

makes her nose run,

even after both sleeves are used up,

she thinks a life couldn’t be any better than this.

And hers won’t be,

and it will be very good.

The Suffering

From “The Rider,” by Tim Krabbé:

“In 1919, Brussells-Amiens was won by a rider who rode the last forty kilometers with a flat front tire. Talk about suffering! He arrived at 11.30 at night, with a ninety-minute leave on the only other two riders who finished the race. That day had been like night, trees whipped back and forth, farmers were blown back into their barns, there were hailstones, bomb craters from the war, crossroads where the gendarmes had run away and riders had to climb onto one another’s shoulders to wipe clean the muddied road signs.

“After the finish, all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is Nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses: people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. ‘Good for you.’ Instead of expressing gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few suitors these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms she rewards passionately.”

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Cycling Into and Through French History


‘The Discovery of France’: Here’s a beautifully written New York Times review of “The Discovery of France,” a history of how the country’s diverse peoples and regions were knitted into one whole. The cycling interest: the author says he rode 14,000 miles on French backroads doing research.

… Written as a “social and geographical history” in which “‘France’ and ‘the French’ would mean something more than Paris and a few powerful individuals,” “The Discovery of France” draws its material not just from the usual array of scholarly sources, but from the author’s own back-road explorations on his bicycle. (“This book,” Robb notes, “is the result of 14,000 miles in the saddle and four years in the library.”) Such an approach is particularly engrossing when one remembers that the very geographical concept of France was still, in the 18th century, very much in flux. “Before the revolution,” it turns out, “the name ‘France’ was often reserved for the small mushroom-shaped province centered on Paris.” What’s more, beyond that relatively small oasis, “France was a land of deserts” — of huge vacant spaces that had still not been accurately mapped in their entirety and that most natives never even tried to explore. (As late as the mid-19th century, it seems, “few people could walk far from their place of birth without getting lost.”) For this reason, Robb devotes some of his most impassioned pages to the adventures of France’s earliest mapmakers: those rare, brave souls who, in the decades leading up to and following the revolution of 1789, risked life and limb to “put half a million obscure hamlets on the map.”

Here’s the Amazon link: “The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War.”

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