Poetry on my Tenth Birthday

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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.

 

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