Original Poetry by Kate Bard
My dad lifts my brand new electric blue Schwinn Mountain Bike onto his shoulders
and hauls it into the garage. He takes a wrench and adjusts the pipes with the precision
of a poet, pulling them to fit my height. I stretch my legs
resting on the tough black seat, rocking from toe tip to toe tip.
My stomach tenses with imbalance, even though his hands haven’t let go
yet. That’s how it should be, he says, roughly
patting my back, hands soaked in black oil thick as spilled ink. It’s a test
of your balance. I work the front tire towards the slope of our driveway. He crushes
one of his old helmets on top of my ponytail, and it stinks of crusted sweat
and blank paper. While he buckles the strap beneath my chin, he begins his instructions:
Front brake, right hand. Back brake, left hand.
Keep your fingers loose and ready
to grip those brakes. Use the back brake,
not the front brake. Here’s the bell.
If you come up behind someone,
say, on your left. Pass on the left.
Twist the handlebars
to change gears. Right hand,
front gear. Left hand, back gear.
Stay on the sidewalk. Don’t change
any of the gears, you’re not ready.
It’s easy — it’s art.
I press feet to pedals, look up at him. Arms crossed over his chest,
but he smiles down at the bike that holds me. Ready. My fingers
grip the metal-piped poem my dad placed beneath me as he pushes
against my shoulder blades like pen to paper. My stomach lurches.
His words flutter from my mind. When the first tire kisses the lip
of the driveway, my right hand squeezes that front brake, and I tumble
over the handlebars, tugging his poetry down on top of me.
My knee is punctuated with sand and oozes sticky red blood. Bent down beside me,
my dad clutches my knee with his ink-stained hands, covering it like a calloused bandage,
editing my mistakes, and I wipe fat commas from my eyes as he says,
You gotta fall, kid. He sighs. You’ve gotta
know how it feels to fall, so you don’t do it again.