What Rough Beast | Poem for December 6, 2017

Naomi Thiers
Rice Bike

Some interchanges
stick—right after they steal your breath.

Get-to-know-you chat with the receptionist
in a trade association where I worked years ago,
Cathy—coarse-featured, blond, blue-
collar Baltimore accent. Both of us
new-babied up, so lots to talk about.
I had no photo, but she pulled out
a laminated snap of her boy
in a studio pose with curls like bronze fusilli.
“His daddy’s black but you can’t really
see it in Tony.” Lilt of pleasure, even
pride in that last phrase. The phone
rang before I could sputter out,
Wouldn’t you want to see. . .?

Two days later, she described
a Sunday with her current boyfriend, “Way
into Harleys.” They went to a Swap Meet:
bikers from two counties exchanging
gear, beer, and lore. “It’s awful, but
they get some old Japanese motorcycle—
they call it a Rice Bike—and take turns
beatin’ on it.”
My hackles rose
(for you can see the Asian in my baby),
but I said nothing, faked a deadline,
slunk to my cubicle.

Remembering, I think of the melting pot
Pittsburgh I grew up in, the names
we bandied about with, I still
believe, little vitriol. He’s a bohunk.
Pollack and proud.
The wop pair extraordinaire—until
our white high school was slated
to merge with the black one.
fear, venom, families
leaving our leafy street.
Hearing in Homeroom about the Plan,
the screaming meetings, garbage
thrown at black houses, I just pulled
a sad, serious face. (As Cathy
would never herself raise
a hammer, I would never
raise my voice.)

America, look what we have:
a fleet of the wildest hybrid
sweet rides on the planet,
every metal, combo, add-on, and color,
junkyard mash-up to custom titanium.
And look what we do:
drag one to the center,
smash it to bits.


Naomi Thiers  is the author of Only The Raw Hands Are Heaven (Washington Writers Pub House, 1992),  In Yolo County (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and She Was a Cathedral (Finishing Line Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Pacific Review, Potomac Review, Grist, and Sojourners, among other publications and anthologies. Originally from California, she lives in Washington, DC, and is an editor at Educational Leadership magazine.

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