Covid Bicycle Blessing
for Sandra Santiago-Vizcaino, first NYC teacher lost to COVID & my friend
I avoided writing as long as I could,
so the glide of images would be free
of uphill straining; but pedaling
on today’s slick roads, over thin
fallen limbs and wet leaves, scatterings of yesterday’s storm, reminds me how in an instant lines shake violently loose,
oak trees topple, yellow tornado skies
turn brilliantly back to blue,
how every few seconds, some gentle soul
arms outstretched to heaven becomes a corpse. (Oh, Sandra, teenage daughters left behind,
sparkling vitality, smiling eyes!)
But this poem is supposed to be about folks I have not met:
the tall mother at the Green Market, who bought orange sunflowers for her little girl; how we shoppers smiled behind our masks to see the child holding them high,
a bright torch to light us through these whirlwind times.
(She could have been our student, Sandra:
like the Third-Grader who sat cross-legged on the classroom rug,
cradling the Halloween pumpkin, tilting her head, as she plucked the stem,
To remove the top, and dip one slim dark questioning hand
into golden flesh, and marvel
at the details inside!
Those slippery yellow seeds
like secret gems, stretchy pungent strings resisting the tip of the knife;
I taught her to describe a pumpkin that day, but you, Sandra, lesson incomplete, toted
it home after three so your daughters would make pie.)
But I was supposed to make space in this poem for folks I don’t know well: the lifeguard neighbor who filled my bike tires, the delivery guy
who singsongs my name
outside the door, (lady, talk to me, slice a few minutes
of tedium off my long day!)
But thoughts written down
chose different streets,
poetic intentions loosened, and I got lost riding over this windswept
I Ching toss, my bike spokes are no longer aligned to radiate
from a calm center, powered by gears and my strong thighs.
The citizens I’ve ridden past, I want to wish them all well. Please
ignore my scattered words; resist sentimentality, craft demands.
Return to title/theme; so, bless-my-city’s my refrain:
the laborers trying to bring home enough for food and rent,
the nanny arriving at another mother’s doorstep, the cashier
fearful of the cash,
the bus driver dreading her riders’ breath;
how an ordinary day teeters on the precipice of chance.
What poem can even try to design
the vivid parenthesis?
help keep alive, in this dark time,
the loving spin of two-hundred-and-sixty-two thousand missing souls?
Phyllis Capello is author of the poetry collection Packs Small Plays Big. She is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in fiction and winner of an Allen Ginsberg poetry award and her work appears in many anthologies. Phyllis performs in pediatric hospitals with Healthy Humor Inc., and teaches poetry for Community-Word Project.