The Biker’s Indignity: A Love Poem
THE BIKER’S INDIGNITY:
A LOVE POEM
My bike was recently knocked over twice in one day,
backed into by oafs on four wheels.
At least in both cases they righted her again,
unlike the many times last summer when I found her
on her flanks, downed
by barbarians and left
to lie amongst her spilled fluids.
Although not on her side this time, evidence of the offense was there:
the gas stain on the concrete, the displaced side mirror, the scuffs, the bent blinker mounts,
the sputtering protestation when I turned the key (she needed 45 minutes to be coaxed back to purring life).
The second strike took place an hour later, while I was in the post office, in a laborious
that I finally ditched, muttering
(still riled up over the earlier fiasco).
I emerged only to find a large empty space in front of my bike where an SUV had been parked
a postal worker covering up the gas stain next to her with handfuls of grass he was uprooting from a sidewalk tree.
He sopped up the fuel with green clods of earth as I raged:
“I left this much space!” I brayed, extending albatross arms. “Ten minutes I’m inside and look what happens! New York drivers are idiots! How would they like it if tractors plowed into their sides? Morons!”
The postal worker bent to his task, unmoved, as I paced and seethed.
I wasn’t the first fellow he’d seen
Anyway, he couldn’t have understood my outrage
just like those miscreants on four wheels can’t understand.
Only riders understand.
Especially New York City riders, who contend daily with the monumental disregard of lead-
heads who lane change as if in go
karts and park as if in bumper cars.
It takes thick skin,
or better yet, leather
to survive on two wheels
in a world overrun
by those on four, eight, sixteen,
where the rules of engagement are dictated by bumpers, seat belts, side impact protection beams, crumple zones, laminated windshields, suspension systems, electronic brake force distribution, automatic braking, lane departure warning systems &
for worst case scenarios
A/C to stay cool
as you wait behind an airbag for the medics to arrive.
No offense, drivers, we all know that your metal cages kill your kind
It’s just that we have no safety apparatus to house us.
Our only protection is our gear:
leather, like the cowman,
a helmet, like the warrior,
maybe even some armored padding on the elbows and shoulders
since an ambush may always await over the hills
and far away
or at the next intersection
(the hand bikers extend to one another on the road is a greeting, but it also carries the possibility of a farewell).
If at times bikers strike you as disagreeably in-your-face
with their roaring engines and loud colors, it’s because self-preservation demands it.
Think before you scowl
at the Harley as it rumbles by, disrupting your precious
Unlike those obnoxious muffler-removing mustang
sallies on four wheels
there are practical reasons for being
heard on a motorcycle:
most motorcycle collisions occur from cars turning left
in front of the biker’s right of way
so from a biker’s perspective
and hopefully yours too
it’s better to disturb the peace
than to go flying over a hood
into a telephone pole.
Only riders understand the perils of the road,
just like only parted lovers can know the glittering caverns of heartbreak,
or soldiers the siren song of war and the crags
upon which it wrecks them.
I spoke of indignity earlier but I should
questions of dignity rarely arise:
usually I’m just pissed off
that some asshole knocked my bike over.
Only in retrospect, under the mellowing breeze of reflection,
do I see that indignity indeed provoked my ire.
because it’s not just some vehicle that’s been outraged,
not some object, some mere thing,
but your steed,
the mare upon which you charge the plain,
the stallion upon which you plunge into battle
(bikes, you see, come in neutral, male, & female
and sometimes even swing
between genders depending on the circumstance).
Perhaps I exaggerate.
When you first buy a bike, sure, it’s a vehicle,
but as the years pass,
the miles pass,
the trials pass,
you grow to recognize your history in its scars & dents,
like a kind of photo album
you always carry
when you travel.
It’s bulky for an album,
especially in the digital age,
but you never misplace it,
nor accidentally delete it.
Mine holds few family photos
mostly just backcountry scenes, and records
of bang ups & skirmishes.
take a look:
See these crooked handlebars?
They’re an oldie. A decade
ago my lobsterman friend, more adept
on water than land
spun her out a on a dirt road turnaround.
As a result, to ride straight I now have to hold
the handlebars as if I’m veering to the left.
In return, he let me dock his boat
let me crash it).
The gas tank
makes me chuckle. It has a
moral: label any canisters with kerosene,
especially if they usually store gas,
unless you want to gum up
your carburetors and marvel
at the quantity of white smoke an exhaust can spew
(riders too commit indignities)
The Yamaha logo
is a microcosmos of my bike, broken & superglued
(from when someone backed
into it on Clinton Ave). And that dent on the other side of the engine? Another knockdown, also on Clinton,
other side of the street.
The bent front blinker stand
is from another spill.
Can’t remember which. Same with the jury rigged rear
ah, the battery!
Don’t get me started. Let me merely say that phasing out
the kickstart was folly.
Here’s one last one, the latest
addition to the album:
The dried oil under the engine
is from when my bike sprang a gushing leak outside
Tunnel a few weeks ago, stranding me in impatient
midtown traffic, leaving me gloomy
that my ’82 Yamaha Maxim, which I bought my junior year
in high school off a friend for a mellow $400
($1 per CC)
and which has endured a symphony
of outrages over the last 17 years,
some of which you now know about, may at last be
in its dying throes. I was
wrong: “You have to know when to jump
off,” the mechanic said, “but you’ll still get a few years out of her.”
His words were oil to my ears.
You see, as your album grows,
your bike transforms
from thing to steed.
(imagine my indignation
when I once heard her referred to as an “old thing”)
In fact, I partly owe my fierce love for my bike
to the indignities she has suffered
for without them
our album wouldn’t be nearly as
In the end,
one can even celebrate these indignities
for they are part of the unruly
seas of riding, much like those
As with love,
you can go from 0 to 60 in a flick of the wrist
and 60 to 0 even faster.
As with love,
there is much to negotiate:
right hand for throttle & front break, left hand for clutch, right foot for rear break, left foot for shifting gears.
You may be on two wheels but
you must maneuver with all four limbs.
As with love,
you deal with exposure,
hard rains, breakdowns,
& close calls
like when my rear tire skidded out briefly on the Manhattan bridge last year after fast-slowing traffic forced me to to sharply brake and downshift
(caused by my daydreaming and consequent slow reaction
but fret not, mother, I
don’t dream & ride
As with love,
sometimes you take a bad spill,
like when I was on a moped on the Greek isle of Skopelos
and braked hard
on a slick, steep, downhill
around a sharp bend
the front wheel flipped out,
sending me and the rental sliding across the opposite lane into the ditch seconds before a truck blasted by around the corner
As with love,
sometimes you do insane things that you hope
never to do again
like when a friend,
during a rough spell,
dislocated his shoulder
upon striking a Mustang while fleeing
As with love,
riding is a high,
the addict’s rush and relief as you open the throttle, a brief movement of the wrist,
as simple as a thumb depressing a syringe
and usually not as dangerous.
As with love,
you have to know when to let go,
or as another friend, Zeke, (who has repeatedly crossed the continent and makes me look like a backyard putterer) put it,
“sometimes you have to bury your bike
before your bike buries you,”
like when the engine of his Honda
seized up on him on Route 3,
his tires instantly locking,
his bike suddenly skidding along
on two wheels at 50 mph
(he managed to stay upright)
burning rubber the length of a football field
until he came to a standing stop,
the bus behind him braking just in time.
He then rolled the stricken Honda into the field,
removed the plate and registration,
a rider’s sky burial,
and walked away
to find a new one.
For all he knows, the Honda is still out there,
But me, no, I still have more photos to put in this album,
My bike and I.
True, we occasionally have to part ways,
she at the shop, me at the writing desk,
both of us being repaired,
but that’s just a matter of upkeep.
my steed awaits outside
this coffee shop,
- The One Man Tent (Part II)
- Seeking the Eiffel Tower in London
- The One Man Tent (Part I)
- Open Sandman: Salvia Divinorum, Lord of Dreams (Part I)