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David Alpaugh

What we did that summer evening 
was turn our bicycles upside-down 
so the seats were on the ground 
and the wheels in the air —
then we twirled the pedal round and round 
till knuckles and fingers were white
and we couldn’t make out individual spokes: 
just a silver blur and an incremental hum
as the wheel sang the song of its appetite.
What we did next was feed the wheel flowers, 
flowers not worth putting in a crystal vase
—Trifolium, Dandelion, Queen Anne’s Lace— 
flowers that thrived on parental neglect
in the unkempt grass by the utility shed 
as if to affirm Britannica on weed:
any plant growing where it is not wanted
Who would be afraid of an idle wheel that spat
out handfuls of ragtag flowers, already half dead? 
And the bleeding stalks left a stinging answer
in the summer air: perfume we’d count on ever after— 
to keep coming at us stronger than before.
Lynne Sautter went first; she thrust in dandelions; 
then Bruce Edwards, a single budding clover:
the only sign we’d get that his own tousled head 
would test the metaphor’s might just two weeks later 
when wheels would screech and metal do its work
a few miles west off Willow Pass road.
It was starting to get dark on Mount Diablo.
We flipped our bicycles right-side-up
and raced around the cul-de-sac like maniacs,
or Dante’s damned, or Milton's falling angels, 
getting high on the last drops of Daylight Savings 
until parents cried, Allee, allee, in-free.
Later we fell asleep, thanking Schwinn, 
Rollfast and whatever gods may be,
for the night, the mountain and the wheel 
within a wheel—like love, like magic,
like a spell to help us keep our balance, 
and make up for bald tires,
as we cycle to the valley floor.
    From Counterpoint (Story Line Press, 1995)
    Used here with the author’s permission.



David Alpaugh was born in New Jersey, but now lives in the San Francisco, California Bay area. His poems and essays have been widely published  in journals and anthologies, including the Dana Gioia-edited California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present.  David’s most recent book, Seeing the There There, is a collection of 89 poems and images full of humor and surprises. A finalist for Poet Laureate of California, David teaches poetry for the University of California Berkeley Extension and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Learn more about him at





Post New Comment:
Those were the days...I would have like to have been a member of your gang.
Posted 08/21/2013 12:03 PM
I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much.
Posted 08/16/2013 12:33 PM
"getting high on the last drops of Daylight Savings...". Marvelous! Brings back so many summer memories! Thank you.
Posted 08/15/2013 07:33 PM
Marvin R. Hiemstra:
Marvin R. Hiemstra: What a stunning trip into the radiance of the past! Thank you.
Posted 08/15/2013 06:02 PM
Larry Schug:
I feel nothing but sadness and worry for the children of today, locked away in leagues and uniforms, with mom driving the van. Worse yet, tethered to electronica. All that makes this poem so wonderful! Come on kids, get outside! Come on, mom, lighten up.
Posted 08/15/2013 02:42 PM
Your poem, David, brings back memories. Very nostalgic, childhood triumphs and tragedies. It has been my privilege to know you for many years, always in admiration of your talent.
Posted 08/15/2013 12:27 PM
While universal, the poem also shows the challenges of growing up in naturally- and economically-blessed SF Bay Area. I liked the specificity of naming the cohorts, and the encyclopedia entry for weeds seemed a particularly telling detail.
Posted 08/15/2013 11:44 AM
David, congratulations. An examplar of poetic craftsmanship! Well-done... Hope to see you soon!
Posted 08/15/2013 11:29 AM
Wonderful poem--thank you.
Posted 08/15/2013 10:28 AM
Ginny C.:
Terrific poem--yes, it is the kind of summer childhood I remember too, a little bit of mostly innocent wildness, with few resources but lots of fresh air. So different than the childhoods of today, which are composed, I think, of screens and shopping malls and (way too) organized sports.
Posted 08/15/2013 09:35 AM
Ross Kightly:
Ah, the bicycle - the invention designed to take kids out of the sight of authority to where... Splendid poem David, tapping into that deep source of common experience - growing up. A process to which one should never allow an ending....
Posted 08/15/2013 04:07 AM

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