Bike Issue


i. Shear
Eighteen spans, massive
Trembling softly
Soothing and rocking, murmuring
Forgetfulness, abnegating the air
The space beneath
The commuters hung aloft
Steel and concrete, manmade
Piles driven deep, riverbed anchors
Towering to brace
His vertebrae
Cooling drops condensing
Salt air drifting in
From estuary, cove and inlet
Soothe his pebbled skin
His task is far from easy
A minor Atlas bearing
Stress and strain—incalculable!
No complaints from him
Unless one considers those
Transitory groans and
Pops of weary joints
Easily drowned in the
Steady roar of inertia
A gate from East to West he keeps
From stately past to present
Bearing us up, holding us aloft!
Trembling softly
Shear, not sheer
(Like a woman’s negligee
Har har har)
Because if the bridge was sheer
(And not sheared)
We wouldn’t have been caught with
Our pants around our ankles!
But no one jokes like this
At RIDOT this late winter
Not aloud, not after dispatches from
Young engineers, burrowing
Into pigeon-fouled catacombs
With cameras and flashlights
Drawings held tight like
Ancient scrolls, trembling as they witness
Tie-down rods in twain
Shit, they murmur
This is way worse than we thought
Revelations drowned in
The steady roar of inertia

ii. The Buck
Arising, a manmade storm
A shitstorm, a scandal brewing
The whitehaired men, weathering
Neckties flapping, hard hats held
Fast against the winds
Texting, always texting, as if thumbing
The rosary invoking
Sublime catechisms
Of sobriety and thanks—
It is hard for me to express
to you in words the depth
of appreciation I have
for the support and leadership
you provide to me and my team

The whitehairs link their arms, knees
Bent, tired backs tensed, forming
A power structure, engineered
And constructed against
the landing of the buck
The men tremble in knowledge of
Its terrible weight
Smiling at fundraisers, shaking
Hands massaging their temples in
Emergency meetings they tremble
The buck's terrible weight!
The shitstorm, foul clods and their
Indelible stains, hurled heedless
ProJo and BoGlo, Turn to 10
Human trusses deflect
Shift, even sag beneath
The buck pressing heavy
Ponderous and gross, sniffing
At their napes and ears
But they do not break!
The buck heaves slowly
Its terrible weight!
And rolls on
And on, anon!
To other bridges in other states
Other painful failures of our
Crumbling infrastructure
As if precipitating out
From some foreordained progression
An emissary arrives
To advance the scenario further
Lo! America’s Mayor
(For the title’s former bearer
Has become woefully unfit—
An addled buffoon colluding
With dye run down his cheeks)
Like some imperial bishop
In vestments of fluorescent
Orange and silver stripe
He dispenses the benediction
Tacit indemnification
Precious royal pardon—
If that repair project were not
undertaken, the inspections that caught
this potentially deadly flaw
would not have happened
There’s a very real risk that residents
would have found out through
a collapse

iii. Washington
This vital behemoth,
Of broad back and infinite patience
Has borne a billion
Dour commutes, countless ventures and
Homecomings, spring vacations
Fall returns, beach days and
In his history also—
Carnage, twisted metal, blood and
Broken glass, fires that
Scorched his skin, men and women alike
Careless, drunk and swerving, mocking
His very purpose
Washington, he was called
The westbound Washington Bridge
Abides, trembling
Once burden-bearer, now burden
Used up, deficient, defunct, condemned
Awaiting the foreman's machines
To tear his concrete flesh

iv. Reclamation
What's going on here she said
As astride their bikes they stood
Behind them Van Leesten, sun-bathed
Gawping and uncertain, wondering
Wherefore this chaos approaching
A parade or some such gewgaw
Her companion rejoined, squinting
Studying the vanguard for meaning
Recalling dimly the Festa, where
Young Corleone made his bones

All at once, the facsimile loomed
Towering, a white Suburban built
Larger than life, festooned
With little trees and rosaries
Wiseass bumper stickers, borne
Up on twenty-twos, borne up
On the shoulders of commuters
City, state and federal
Administrators, politicians clutching
Ribbon-cutting scissors,
Engineers with laptops,
Dealership financiers, auto
And home insurers, union
Men and women, every single one in total
Solidarity with the mission

The car gods bay for blood
Her companion murmured, man
Shall pay obeisance
And lesser gods shall perish
Her reply, aborted as
A bollard flew overhead
Hurled with vehement rage
Years of unearthly spite
And in the procession smiling
The folk reverently approaching
The ark, to stuff dollars in the
Hoisting children aloft, for
Little hands to learn the motions
Anointing the while the icon
Beer transubstantiating
To turtle wax, to full synthetic
To regular unleaded
A few were jostled harshly
Or in a careless stumble, caught
Before the bogus coach
Grille-struck and mowed under
Pedestrians in the last
As inertia roared about them
Bollard after bollard flew and
In the taillight glow
Figures danced and whirled,
With cone-shaped hats and brushes
Agents of revanche,
Awake in joyful trembling
Ecstatically restriping
Inch by careful inch
The stolen holy pavement

What fresh car hell is this?
She entreated, and
Hearing no word in answer the two
Mounted and rode in fear
As previously was their custom
Before the fleeting respite of
The South Water Street urban trail,
Fleeing, before the marchers
In gleeful, boisterous shouts


Final lines of poem are lyrics from Gary Numan’s song “Cars”