Oct. 1, 2005

Bike Ride with Older Boys

by Laura Kasischke

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Poem: "Bike Ride with Older Boys" by Laura Kasischke, from Dance and Disappear. © University of Massachusetts Press. Reprinted with permission.

Bike Ride with Older Boys

The one I didn't go on.

I was thirteen,
and they were older.
I'd met them at the public pool. I must

have given them my number. I'm sure

I'd given them my number,
knowing the girl I was...

It was summer. My afternoons
were made of time and vinyl.
My mother worked,
but I had a bike. They wanted

to go for a ride.
Just me and them. I said
okay fine, I'd
meet them at the Stop-n-Go
at four o'clock.
And then I didn't show.

I have been given a little gift—
something sweet
and inexpensive, something
I never worked or asked or said
thank you for, most
days not aware
of what I have been given, or what I missed—

because it's that, too, isn't it?
I never saw those boys again.
I'm not as dumb
as they think I am

but neither am I wise. Perhaps

it is the best
afternoon of my life. Two
cute and older boys
pedaling beside me-respectful, awed. When we

turn down my street, the other girls see me...

Everything as I imagined it would be.

Or, I am in a vacant field. When I
stand up again, there are bits of glass and gravel
ground into my knees.
I will never love myself again.
Who knew then
that someday I would be

thirty-seven, wiping
crumbs off the kitchen table with a sponge, remembering
them, thinking
of this—

those boys still waiting
outside the Stop-n-Go, smoking
cigarettes, growing older.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the author Tim O'Brien, born in Worthington, Minnesota (1946), the son of an insurance salesman and a grade school teacher. One day he stumbled on some clippings of articles that his father had published in the New York Times about fighting in Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He had never known before that his father had been a writer.

He applied to Harvard for graduate school, hoping to eventually get a job in the State Department, but that summer he got drafted to fight in Vietnam. He was assigned to the infantry. Before he went to Vietnam, he was spending some time in northern Minnesota. He had the chance to cross the border into Canada, but he decided not to. He said, "I did not want people to think badly of me. My conscience told me to run, but I was ashamed of my conscience, ashamed to be doing the right thing."

He hated his experience in Vietnam, but by the end of his tour, he had published some articles in newspapers about it, and came back to this country. O'Brien said, "They process you out of the Army in about two hours—say the "Pledge of Allegiance," get in a taxicab, get on a plane, take off your uniform in the toilet, and fly to Minnesota. It was fast and effortless, just like gliding out of a nightmare "

He got a job at the Washington Post, and then quickly published a memoir of his experiences called "If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home." It came out in 1973.

He's best known perhaps for his book, The Things They Carried, a series of short stories about a group of soldiers in Vietnam. The title story is among the most widely anthologized short stories in contemporary literature.

"The Things They Carried" begins, "First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending."

It's the birthday of Julie Andrews, born Julie Wells in Surrey, England (1935). She made her debut on Broadway at the age of 19 in The Boyfriend in 1954.

It's the birthday of historian Daniel J. Boorstin, born in Atlanta (1914), author of Empire of Czar, The Discoverers and Cleopatra's Nose.

Daniel J. Boorstin said, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations people."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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