Saint Christopher

I remember an old church
carved out of the back of a cave.

I am sure I was not supposed
to discover the practitioners’ secret.

But it rained too violently
when I was bicycling

and serendipity brought me
to the cave entrance.

It was the lingering incense
that emboldened me

past my fear of inclosed spaces
and that the earth desired to swallow me.

After a tight squeeze going upward
a dry gallery opened

with signs of the cross
and a crude alter of cut stone.

A bronze censer with its lid off
contained thick ashen residue.

A silver plate held dried out bread crumbs.
A crystal chalice wore smudged finger prints.

The walls exhibited red pigmented hand prints
and stick-figure stations of the cross.

I left my travelers medallion on the alter
as a sign and offering.

Then I left the sanctuary, the cave,
to re-entered the waning storm.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Although I have bicycled over 30k miles in my life and had my progress halted by severe storms on occasion, I have never found a cave to wait out the storm. So this poem is a fancy, a fiction to delight my imagination.

Believable

My wallet has two dollars.
My pocket has eighty-seven cents.

Not quite enough to run away from home forever.
But enough to run away for the day.

My bicycle navigates trails and back streets
thirty miles to a lake park with herons at the shoreline.

A photographer documents wildlife’s adjustments
to encroaching urbanization.

I ask the burger clerk if she enjoys
being the poorly paid instrument of unrestrained capitalism?

She stares blankly to a spot three feet behind my head.
Do you want fries with that?

An hour after watching folks picnic at the park,
I head home with three hours before supper

to work out a believable story of my day,
knowing suppertime conversation requires it.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

By the time I was ten years old, I started to adventure on my bicycle riding farther and farther from home each school-less day. A favorite place to go was the Morton Arboretum five miles from our home. When I was that age, the outskirts of my hometown still had cornfields and farm silos attached to barns. Over the next seven years, Chicago expanded outward over the farms. I kept riding farther and farther west to reach visible farms, woods, and lakes.

In The Bloodstream

Where lies the key?
I checked every pocket.
Every nook and cranny.

In and under
fifty-three self-help books
by domestic and foreign authors.

At a job fair I learned
I should use my gifts
toward my perfect career

which left me with the choice
of joining the French Foreign Legion
or becoming a suicide bomber.

As I practice exhaling the apocalypse
and envisioning a future
less bright than a nuclear explosion,

I am certain the mightiest proof
of my inner strength
is that I decided to make a career

out of bicycling from my front door
to Who-Knows-Where America
with the notion of reaching Nirvana

somewhere in between
leaving it all behind
and a collision with an untoward fate.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Pedaling

In nineteen-ninety-three, while bicycling from Seattle to Milwaukee, I rediscovered my natural sense of wonder.

My friend Bob Hurly Bob joined this adventure. We knew we missed our chance to explore with Lewis & Clarke.

After a few days on the road, hours ceased to exist. There were three distinct times of day: dawn, hungry, and dusk.

A National Forest ranger dispelled the notion we watched our national symbol, a bald eagle, glide over and fish the McKenzie River. Ospreys are pretty damn wondrous, too.

One day we passed Oregon Trail re-enactors in a covered wagon drawn by draft horses. It reminded me my father served in the U.S. Army’s last horse drawn artillery unit.

Another day, in eastern Oregon we discovered we could attain thirty miles per hour on a slight incline. A rancher and his sons ripped apart red and white bullseye targets with submachine gun fire.

At the west entrance to Yellowstone an ambulance flew by on the narrow road. We arrived to hear a woman explain to the EMTs that her crushed husband petted a wild buffalo on the nose.

We purchased a case of beer at the end of each day near the hiker-biker campgrounds. We traded beer for travel stories.

A rodeo cowboy told us that anyone who bicycles up thirty-one hundred foot White Bird Pass is tougher than a bull rider.

The manliest man we met was a woman. She did double-shift nursing all winter along the US-Mexico border, then bicycled to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada and back the rest of the year.

I do not remember how Bob got the second Bob in his name, but it’s sounded right every day since.

After nineteen hundred miles, I broke down outside of Caspar, Wyoming. Understand, Bob Hurly Bob ran marathons for fun.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

In Absentia

There are so many white bicycles
adjacent to Albuquerque roads—
two-wheel descansos for the crumpled departed—
that I consider giving up
my favorite mode of transportation.

Regularly there are fresh flowers
posted in the spokes
or tied to the handlebars.
I never see anyone tending these memorials
as I glide by on my way from way down there
to way up there.

Is it family members or riding community members
who tend the memorials?

Is there a church of bicycling?

I often wonder, how much farther
did the riders have to go?

Often, I feel the need to complete their journeys.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

POSTSCRIPT

Descansos are roadside memorials. They are common in New Mexico to mark the scene of an auto accident that took the life of a love one. One that I pass by regularly in Albuquerque, has been tended for the twelve years I have lived here. The descansos for bicyclists are usually a bicycle frame painted white with flowers and special items attached to the frame. In my regular ten mile bicycle loop to Flying Star cafe, I pass two of them.