On My Tenth Birthday, June 12th, 2001


United States
41° 14' 2.5332" N, 96° 6' 56.1348" W

My dad lifts my new electric blue Schwinn Mountain Bike onto his shoulders
and hauls it into the garage. He takes a wrench and adjusts the pipes
with the precision of a poet, pulling them to fit my height. I stretch
and sit on the tough black seat and wobble from toe tip to toe tip.
That’s how it should be.
It’s a test of your balance, he says, roughly
patting my back with hands soaked in black oil thick as spilled ink. I work
the front tire so I can stare down the slope of our driveway. He crushes
one of his old helmets on top of my ponytail. It stinks of his crusted sweat.
After he buckles the strap beneath my chin, he gives me a prep talk.
Front brake, right hand. Back brake, left hand.
Keep your fingers loose and ready
to grip those brakes. Use the back brake,
not the front brake. Here’s the bell.
Ding. If you come up behind someone
say, on your left. Pass on the left.
Twist the handlebars
to change gears. Right hand,
front gear. Left hand, back gear.
Stay on the sidewalk. Don’t change
any of the gears yet, you’re not ready.
I put my feet on the pedals and look up at him, arms crossed over his chest,
as he smiles down at the bike that holds me. Ready. I cling tightly
to the metal-piped poem beneath me as he pushes
his fingertips against my shoulder blades like pen to paper. The wind rushes
against my cheeks. My stomach fills with bees. But when my front tire kisses the lip
of the driveway, my right hand squeezes the front brake, and I tumble
over the handlebars, tugging the bike down on top of me.
My knee is peppered with sand and oozes sticky red blood. Bent down beside me,
my dad clutches my knee with his ink-stained hands, covering it like a calloused bandage,
and I wipe fat tears from my face as he says:
You gotta fall, kid. He sighs. You have got to
know how it feels to fall, so you don’t do it again.


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