The Barrel Rider
He rides a stripped down Indian, lean and loud,
in cheap county fairs, traveling from small town to small town,
smells of grease and popcorn in his clothes, thick as hair.
At the bottom of the barrel, his round wife feeds him
sandwiches, thin strips of bologna leaking mustard
and his kid drives matchbox cars in the oil soaked dirt,
ignoring us other kids, forty feet up, screaming for his father
to do the death-defying feat; the boy’s eyes glaze
over like the day old doughnuts he eats on the road.
His father’s ride up the barrel, finding the place
where gravity and speed part company is nothing new,
the rough ride up the barrel less confining than prison.
He never looks over his shoulder in the barrel, never waits
for the clean click of handcuffs slipping up on him.
At the bottom, the rider revs up his Indian,
swallows his bologna, and wife and child ignore the noise
like the sound of a window fan in summer, but we shout—we
children up top, our fifty cent ticket stubs melting
in sweaty hands, and he rides round and round,
the chrip of wheel beginning its sideways ascent
sends into screams of joy and terror.
His wife counts money, his son builds dirt hills
for toy cars, and he rises slowly, loudly
like the terrible angel of God, helmet less,
his thinning red hair blown flat as he leans in,
circles higher, higher, round and round,
speed increasing as the noise of the chopped Indian
deafens us as we wait, looking down, waving,
he is here
riding the thin lip
of the uppermost edge,
holding out one hand
for us to reach for as he grins a fast-forward smile.
We are just beyond the reach of this summertime hero,
riding sideways into our laughter of things that can’t be done.
Now he throttles down the bike descending in a slow circle
as we shout and clap, but the going down for us
is only ending, not as good,
yet he hangs on tight, seems just as concerned.
At the bottom, he finally stops, cuts the power,
and the air cool and thick-quiet.
He smiles up at us, smoothing back his hair
over the face which is a mass of scars, tight and red.
We kids ride other rides, Tilt-a-whirl, Scrambler, Himalayas,
until only useless brown coins sift in our tired hands
and parents call our names in the darkness,
but in the distance, over the hawkers and music,
the barrel rider starts his engine, his confined escape.
Walking on Water
Helsinki sits behind me—civilization, cathedral,
cafes, houses. Ice breakers
crunch, cracking channels of wind and water.
How can a sea freeze from coast to coast?
I set my foot on rippled ice caps, captured
at some indefinable moment—moving
from water to ice.
The nights are long now, the days short. The world is
upside down. Water is hard, morning is dark.
I move through my days like a woman swimming
in slush, captured between two things not exactly water,
not exactly ice, not exactly day, not exactly night.
The sea comes back to me in spring.
We drink sea-chilled white wine, lie on rocks,
feel the sun warm on our faces, sweat.
But beneath the water, I imagine the ice still lives,
biding her time, watching the clock, stopping the moment.