My Wobbly Bicycle, 131

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 | 8 comments

Here’s Part II of my romp through past books, toward the launch of The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, on March 16th.


searchSince my first book was obviously a lucky fluke (this is how my mind works), I would never get a press to take another.  I sent my second manuscript, Do Not Peel the Birches, back to Purdue University Press (if they liked me once….), but the book didn’t win their contest that year. Alas, woe was me, it was confirmed. I was a flash in the pan. The next year, 1993, I sent my manuscript to several other presses as well, but Gerald Stern, Purdue’s final judge that year, picked mine as winner of their newly established Verna Emery Prize, which was book publication.


Not only that, he came to visit me and helped me revise several poems.  “Be wilder here!” he’d say. Geez, wilder.  I made several poems a lot better because he said that. I tried to let my mind drift outward, or inward, beyond the poem. What else? What else could be there? I was learning to do consciously what had only happened occasionally and unconsciously before, that is to dig beneath the narrative for the rumbling deep levels.


“Do Not Peel the Birches” was the sign my grandfather nailed on the birch tree outside the cottage. I’d only recently begun coming back to the cottage every summer. So little was changed! I was obsessed with seeing, with seeing what was, with my imaginings of what was, of re-living, re-seeing.


images-2In this poem, my aunt Cleone was still alive. Her beloved husband was dead. My marriage was falling apart. We were alone—and lonely—up there at the cottage, swimming:


Night Swimming


We are without our men, hers dead

ten years, mine far away, the water

glassy warm. My old aunt already stands

half in. All I see is the white half,

her small old breasts like bells,

almost nice as a girl’s. Then we hardly

feel the water, a drag on the nipples,

a brush on the crotch, like making love

blind, only the knives of light

from the opposite shore, the shudders

of our swimming breaking it up.

We let the water get next to us

and into the quick of losses we don’t

have to talk about. We swim out

to where the dock goes blank,

and we are stranded, abandoned good flesh

in a black of glimmering. We each fit

our skin exactly. After a while

we come out of the water slick as eels,

still swimming, straight-backed,

breasts out, up to the porch,

illuminate, sexy as hell, inspired.





  1. Dear Fleda, I so love this poem.

  2. Thanks, Tara. I’m thinking of you all a lot lately. Will write something to our St. Thomas’s group soon. Love you.

  3. Healing. Thank you.

    • I hope so. Thanks, Jacqui. Miss seeing you.

  4. So lovely, sensual, evoking my own teenage memories of a lake in Canada. Only a poem could travel so far, so fast. Especially one by Fleda Brown.

    • Thank you, Judith. It may be all of our memories.

  5. This is a great poem! Gives me hope!

  6. I have always loved that poem, Fleda. Thanks for bringing it back here!

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