A poem inspired by muscle memory.

The Bicyclist

by Frank Graham


Your sweat falls in drops

dotting the trail on a map,

in a tour along the river,

beside the irrigated plains,

next to the farmer’s toil,

then a field of paintbrush,

another of sunflowers.

You go on, bicycle through

the small towns, then into

the city, within the alleyways

as steam lops between corners,

outside the open doors

of stir-fry kitchens and pasta

eateries. You ride a bike

like it is a collection

of components, feel the gears

shift and the wheels turn

with the press of leg. How

your lungs know the burn

when you try to outrace

your best friend.

How your legs remember

a ride you took in college,

late nights to the dorms,

the twitching and cramps

in a twin bed. You also

remember every sinew

loosened with her fingertips.

You ride for distance

and destination, chat along

the lakeside, make friends

with a recent graduate.

You push your body

until you feel the good ache,

the rest in your heart.

It is all work and no show,

though the pipes on your bike

glisten, tires stripped down,

just muscle, grit and road.

How your heart feels the cool

breeze roll off the peloton.

You let your vision blur

between the other riders,

the friction of passing

gives you something

you cannot describe,

something you know you

need. You name your bikes—

Red Devil and Rust Bucket.

There is always grease

on your fingers, a flat to fix,

an old spoon to slip

a tire over the rim.


Originally published in This Land: Fall 2015.