Every ride reminds me of death.
The two of us, a drunken pickup, errant deer
something explodes, slow flight after impact
a flash of time and then the fall
a branch in the throat, a leg turned all wrong
darkened shreds of skin–
Let this machine pass powerfully through me.
My body is the engine, his body is the fuel.
We rule our gears and mirrors and chrome.
Our leather stories are mortal sketches.
We swallow the horizon.
HARLEY GUYS AT BIKE WEEK
He watches for Dyna Glides, Sportsters, Heritage Classics and Fat Boys. Each is precious in his sight, as if he hasn’t already seen thousands of them, as if each were an endangered species. This is how Harley guys are. “One Hog and two Gold Wings,” he reports, tireless in his mission.
I am writing poems on Bear Butte to escape the rumble of V-Twins in town. The Indians come up here on vision quests with offerings tied with white cloth for the east where the sun rises, and black for the west where the sun sets. Not a shaman but a Harley guy descends the mountain path.
Hard to tell if he found what he was looking for, his face craggy as the mountain’s, pockmarked with switchbacks and fallen rocks. His legs and arms operate like gears with some teeth missing. There are many patches sewn on his leather vest, skull and crossbones the uniform of his tribe.
The streets of Sturgis are striped with bikes and one of them is ours. Harley guys are called to this place created by the Great Spirit for quiet reflection of earth and sky. A raucous roar winds through the pristine hills. August again. Like swallows and monarchs, they must all return to “Go.”
We rode ours, through the monotony of South Dakota, counting the miles and bales of hay piled in nines. In Butternut, there was a store, “Bibles & Bait.” Grain elevators along railroad tracks. The wind resisted all the way.
Sturgis is bible camp for Harley guys and old hipsters who never grew up or grew up just enough to become lawyers, stockbrokers, administrators or otherwise smart enough to eke out the wherewithal for a down-payment. Theirs is a fraternity of focus, admiration of leather and well-shined steeds.
The noise is deafening and some bikers wear earplugs but never helmets. There are dykes on bikes, fag bikers, bikers for Jesus, illiterate and itinerant bikers. We are the only helmeted bikers. I explain about my precious brain and face. The boys selling leather headwraps roll their eyes.
Sturgis is one big parade of colors and chrome, detailing and slogans like “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand” and “Live to Ride, Ride to Live” on T-shirts over free-swinging breasts. Tattooed spider webs on fleshy cheeks. I feel pretty tough in my leather vest.
Some Harley guys sleep with their bikes at the campgrounds, and their old ladies, not ladies at all but crusted versions of the little girls their mothers polished with pride, swearing like sailors and smoking Camels, their tender little bottoms callused, their perfect breasts sinking slowly with gravity and bad roads.
I sleep with my Harley guy in the lumpy bed of someone’s farmhouse. At night we drink beers and watch the stars from lawn chairs set next to our bike, which glows in the moonlight, a blinding beautiful red mixed of roses and fine cabernets, sleek of shape and smoothest smooth, rubber and steel, chrome breathing machine.
Each ride is love’s gentle brush with danger, the air above, the pavement below, my full body against his, both of us leather-hard and all the tenderness of Earthlove, spotting bald eagles and Fat Boys, proud to be American, flying with the Great Spirit, who laughs with us on each ride, which is to live.