My Wobbly Bicycle, 165

Posted by on Feb 13, 2019 | 27 comments

It was a beautiful day. I wanted to get my father out of his tiny assisted-living quarters. I took him for a drive up the Leelanau peninsula. This is a poem from my new manuscript:


Not Dying


He says he wakes and it feels momentarily

like he’s finally dying, a giving way, a sinking

or hovering, can’t say, but momentary: a window swung

open you don’t realize until a breeze.


I take him for a ride along the tongue

of land, west looking east, looking back at the city

from a point. Jet trails. He points them out, strung

like necklaces, one fresh, with its glint out front.


We talk glaciers, how they stuttered and glinted

down Michigan, pools for each pause,

those excellent lapses. And branches bare because

the trees are all dead, he says, forgetting the time of year.


No, I say, dormant. Road hum. Ducks with their flawless wake.

It hurts to turn his head. I slow and turn. Each new thing

needs to be dead center, unencumbered.  The names:

mallard, jet trail, Power Island. Boat slips claim


blank water breathing in their hollows. He says it feels

like dying, he says it as if he had been lit up from the inside,

a room waiting, a waiting room. Not an ordeal,

but road hum and light.


At night the aides come by. One kisses him goodnight

on the lips, he says. Where? The lips.  He smiles

as if he’s gotten away with something. He’s miles

away, a faint agreeable aftertaste. Nothing he can describe.


I rhymed this one, in my own way. He would have much preferred the rhyme to thump hard at the end, Robert Service-like, phrases all wrapped up. He didn’t understand my poems. But he said, “You must be good at this, you have so many books.” He read several of my poems in his weekly “Poetry with Phillips” times at Willow Cottage, where he lived. But they were a mystery to him. I didn’t try to help him much, because whatever degree of autism he had, completely prevented his understanding of metaphor, of the intangible.


No emotion makes it more clear that the body/mind is one function than grief. It floods and ebbs and flows as it will. It can’t be shut down and it can’t be called forth. Oh well, it can be called forth. An image can do it in a flash.


What I would like to say at the moment about my father, who died a week ago Monday, is that he was the most intensely curious person I have ever known. Somehow the brain-glitch that prevented one aspect of his self to manifest held open a floodgate of awareness in other ways. I kept learning from him up until he died. I took my IPhone with me every time I visited him, because I knew he’d have questions about things I couldn’t answer myself, so we’d look them up. At 100, almost 101, and beginning to get fuzzier, he would ask about the life cycle of the emerald ash borer. Raised in a mechanical-Newtonian world, he was still struggling to understand the relativity of time and space. I’ve kept his ragged copy of “Einstein” because I’m as baffled as he was by the way the universe is made of nothing but shifting.




  1. Love the poem, Fleda, which seems like something Virginia Woolf might have written, but of course it’s all you and your father. Love to you also. Maria

    • I am re-reading To the Lighthouse right now. Such an interesting writer, she was. Thanks, Maria.

  2. Oh Fleda. Thank you for sharing him.

  3. I know you like to explore the scientific, from other angles. The line on autism and metaphor caught my eye. I wonder if you have read Iain Mcgilchrist’s new book, the Master and the Emissary.

    Stealing from the TED talk description:
    Psychatrist Iain McGilchrist is the author of “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.”. Iain McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and writer. Before he came to medicine, he was a literary scholar — and his work on the brain is shaped by a deep questioning of the role of art and culture.

    Quite fascinating stuff and how the right side of the brain forms the “big picture” and in a sense uses metaphors to piece together the left side of the brain.


    • How interesting. I’ll put that book on my list. I am fascinated, as you know, by the way science speaks of art, and vice versa. Thanks for this.

      • I think science and art speak of the same things; one speaks with the mind, the other with the heart. The languages differ, but the generative thoughts arise from the same questions: how, why, when, what.

        • I completely agree. What a lovely way to put that. Thanks.

      • Sounds like you have that “intensely curious” thing too, Fleda. Btw, I very much enjoyed Syd Lea’s A NORTH COUNTRY LIFE.

    • I haven’t read that book, but I’m fascinated, especially as it relates to autism. I will put that on my list. Thanks.

  4. Perhaps the trees dying makes your father feel at one with the universe. He seems to be the kind of person in tune with native cultures. I envy him. He knows his spectacular place is usual. Oh, for that insight. In these times, especially.

    • I always felt something so primitive moving in my father. I see you see that, too. Thanks, Ruth.

    • He spent his childhood fishing and swimming. And his favorite spot was always in a sailboat. So yes, in a sense, he was very much in tune.

  5. Fleda, Sorry to learn of your loss. Over the years we have known each other I got to know him a tiny bit through your work and presence.

    • Thank you, Norman. My next collection of essays is full of him. I’m only now sending it out, so it may be a while. Good to hear from you.

    • Thanks, Norman. I’m glad he’s been visible to some extent in my writing. In the next memoir, he’s all over it. When I land a good publisher.

  6. Oh Fleda, what a loving legacy. I was instantly transported to the rides I took my mother on during her final months. I was able to do a life review with her during those excursions around Newark. Thank you for a sharing your father.

    • That’s a lovely thought, a life review. Thing is, my father always lived in the present. He wasn’t interested in the past. Too bad, because there were things I would have liked to hear him talk about.

    • How lovely that you got to do that. Thanks, Nina.

  7. your words reminded me of the Paul Valery quotation: “Got made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through.”

    • That is very cool. I didn’t remember that. I have a poem I’m struggling with right now that I may be able to use that in.

  8. Comment

  9. oops. “God made everything…”

  10. Wonderful,as ever,Fleda. I have always envied your command of scientific stuff; I could just never “get” it, except for biology, because I could relate that to observables in the world of humans and nature, that is, could integrate it with my own experience, which is, alas, the only way I can ever learn anything. But, like, chemistry?! I always wondered and still do, say, how anyone came up with the notion of benzine ring. I men, who ever saw one of those? Your having been versed –I suspect in large part,precisely, by your dad–in such matters (partly)accounts for what I see as great RANGE in your poems. My condolences and bravos, Syd

    • Thanks for this, Syd. Chemistry has always been outside my range, needing math and all to get it. I always loved biology and am fascinated by physics, although what I know is entirely surface.

  11. Sad to hear of your loss, Fleda. My Mom was 96-still miss her. Liz

    • Thank you, Liz. Yes, they always stay with us.

  12. So lovely, Fleda! May we all remain curious right up to the end!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *