My Wobbly Bicycle, 135

Posted by on Mar 15, 2017 | 3 comments

Launching The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems tomorrow!  Today I offer you the tiniest poem in the book, from No Need of Sympathy (BOA 2013). I want to thank BOA for giving permission for me to use 20 poems from a collection that hadn’t been out all that long. That can cut into their sales, so I urge you to have a look at that book, also.

This poem was one of a series of short poems I wrote in response to sculptures by the artist Bill Allen.  The poems and pieces were part of an exhibit at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City.  I wanted short poems so a person could stand there and read them on the wall.



Worms can replace parts.

They can re-start themselves

if they’re cut apart. And

the slime they leave behind

glues the earth together.

They have no eyes.

Imagine scrunching alone

through life, armless,

legless, and blind

yet so convinced

of your usefulness that it

makes some kind of sense.


images-2Oh, all right. I’ll give you two for the price of one. This is also from No Need of Sympathy. The PBS News Hour used to—before they gave up with the sheer numbers—have a period of silence at the end of the show when they put on screen the name and photo of each person killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I wrote this after watching that became almost more than I could bear. I think of the great World War I poets, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is a poem by Owen.  I think of the young recruit, just wanting to get out of his small town. He’s so young, it seems as if he’s playing dress-up, going off to war.



imgresHere, In Silence, Are Eight More



Night after night the photos of dead soldiers

go by on the News Hour like playing-cards while we drink


our wine, though we stop for that length of time, of course,

out of reverence, but it’s not enough. The well of


how-not-enough-it-is is bottomless, deeper than TV. Even

if you track back through the Comcast cable, back to


the electrical impulses, you’re not even close to what to do.

Not even if you end up on Main Street in Salisaw, Oklahoma,


and follow the 19-year-old into the storefront full of

uniforms, crisp, medallioned, follow not his vanity


but his hope, his longing for order, for the squared shoulders

of order, his wish for the vast plains of the world


to unroll at eye-level, so he can walk out into the particulars,

the screaming, the blood. Owen, Brooke, Sassoon: what


anthem for the doomed youth this time? His death rests

like a quarter in the pocket, a sure thing. Its arrival


is a few missing lines I fill in, wrongly, because

the mind does that: I have him watching in slow motion,


with love and pity, the flowers beginning to bloom

on his shirt, the sky closing like a book. Sadly, then,


he disappears entirely into my mind, his last breath

easing between my words. There was a book in his childhood.


No, mine. Ducks cross the road, a mother duck leads them

through traffic to the pond. The pages flip so that


the ducks seem to move. They slide into the pond

with the satisfaction of making it through the human


confusion. Our soldier floats like a duck. Like a night-flight

casket. In the photo his eyes, straight-forward, being all


they can be, float on the surface of a pool of uncatalogued

genetic material. One snapshot in time, his eyes were


like that, his mouth. He can’t remember. He never was

like that. He was playing dress-up, then, hoping to make it true,


and did, so true no one could get in a word, in protest.







  1. Wow, Fleda. That second poem stuns me. Made me unable to finish my coffee. I wish you hadn’t captured it so well. Actually, that’s not true. I’m glad you did. What I really wish is that so many young men and women didn’t die in GWB’s back-draft.

    Thank you for bearing witness.

  2. Speechless.

  3. Thank you for this second poem especially. I related to putting down your wine out of respect. And the ducks of course. Big sigh. Well well said.

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