Never Learned to Ride
by Mary McCarthy

Because one summer afternoon
the peace was broken
by a crash
followed by the wail of sirens
police and ambulance
already too late
keeping the crowd back
still close enough to see
white tennis shoes
and red blood
in the gutter —
Dad counting heads
making sure
we were all here
standing just outside
the front door
staring at the small
details of death
blood and white tennis shoes
and a broken bike
all we could see
of the collision
between our paperboy
and the truck turning the corner
too fast to stop —
So Mama saw to it
none of us ever
owned a bike
or learned to ride
not even something
we could imagine asking for
as long as anyone remembered
that unquiet afternoon

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The event described in the poem had quite an effect on all of us—I remember my dad counting heads—after all, we all wore tennis shoes, and that’s what he saw, tennis shoes and blood. Although we fought Mama’s overprotectiveness like any kids would, the bike-riding thing was something we didn’t question. The photo is of mom, dad, and all seven of us. I am in the far left, probably about 13 years old here.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Mama always thought she could protect us, even at the same time she knew she couldn’t. Her efforts to keep us out of danger went unappreciated, and were the first things we had to rebel against — although in this particular instance it worked — I think only one of my sisters and brothers ever learned to ride a bike, and that was as an adult.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary McCarthy lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and her chocolate lab — who make sure she remembers how to enjoy each day, whatever it may bring. Always a writer, she spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse — and now devotes her energies to poetry and art.