Monday, October 8, 2007

Old Technology

In class we were studying the grim poem, "Ballad for Miss Gee," by W.H. Auden, and the poem refers to Miss Gee's bicycle, which is braked by reversing the pedals. Of course I rode such a bicycle when I was a kid, but I assumed that such old technology had long ago gone by the wayside. So I asked my students if they'd heard of such a braking system, and not only had they heard of it, but several had also ridden such bicycles--and recently. I was thrilled that some piece of old technology had persisted, unlike slide-rules and typewriters--not that I miss either of these items. Technology that persists, however incidental it may be, adds continuity to life.

My late friend, colleague, coauthor, and fellow student Wendy Bishop edited several books for Boynton/Cook-Heinemann publishers beginning with The Subject Is. . . . in the title. The Subject Is Writing, The Subject Is Reading, and The Subject Is Story are among them. They collect essays written chiefly by college teachers but pitched to college students; they're nifty, useful little books, eclectic, grounded, and innovative, just like Wendy was.

I borrowed the template of her titles for the following poem about a bicycle, if indeed the poem is about a bicycle:

The Subject Is The Bicycle

This is not I repeat not about me.
It is about the bicycle.

I could have been anyone and was.
Only the bicycle could have been and was the bicycle:

bent, oxidized, built for flatness but
mis-fortuned to High Sierra.

One wheel rubbed against a chrome
deco fender: a rhythm of wear,

an indentured, oblong Cole Porter
song, a raw wound on physics’ perfect hide.

The bicycle went on to represent me in Congress.
It praised my auto-didactic schemes,

which were not I repeat not about
me but about just trying to move along,

even if the chain needs oiling, even if a slow leak
betrays the tube, even if the handle-bars slip.

Motion means balance. Stasis falls over.
The subject is riding persistence.

Copyright 2007
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