Learning to Ride a Bike
by Connie Wieneke
The Kellers’ kids, theirs and the Indians they’d fostered,
my family invited down from up the road,
a dog or two kicked into shy stillness,
all of us that day a ring around a pen.
As one tribe our hands gripped the fence slats, as if
its rough wood the last promise we expected kept,
and all the while Ruby and Red solemn-faced
slaughtered their hogs.
On that day I learned to ride a bike,
the bike too big—and aren’t they always?—
for my seven-year-old self who knew about always and nothing,
except what the distance between crotch and saddle was:
too far, and then too close, the soles of that child’s shoes
too thin, but when she strained her calves, stretched her legs
long and tough as a boy’s she let the bike wheel
and wobble and snake and coaster bounce across
the gravel road and around the curve to highway blue,
as if it could carry her far enough from the screams
to ease her grip on the rusty handlebars, to forget everyone
hungered for those pigs to die.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My second-grade photo — taken the same year that I learned to ride a bike near Havre, Montana.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have worked on this poem in various guises since 2009. The pigs and learning to ride a bike have been inextricably connected in my mind and body. I wanted to capture our lives out there on the Highline of northern Montana at that moment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Wieneke has been working on a collection of poems about her family, from the perspective of herself as a child and then as an adult navigating the deaths of her parents. Her work has appeared in Stand, Cutbank, Owen Wister Review, Clerestory, Northern Lights, and Silver Birch Press.