Annette Barnes

Tolstoi Learned to Ride a Bike at an Age When Most of Us Cash in Chips by Annette Barnes & Stuart Friebert
March 13, 2012 Barnes Annette

Tolstoi Learned to Ride a Bike at an Age When Most of Us Cash in Chips


There we were, watching the parade, while he climbed up
on a curb stool to see what he could see. At first he seemed


confounded by mothers in curlers marching behind infantine
baton twirlers and thought of setting off into the forest on one


of his long lonely walks, smashing twigs in his way, cursing
under his breath; but when the beauty queen threw a candle


to him from her guttering crown, he shifted from one gimpy leg
to another to catch it. Riding his bike backwards, the clown pulled


his jacket off, turned a sleeve inside out, and flung it at Tolstoi,
who, sensing a moment of innocent holy foolishness, shouted out,


I see we are both not afraid of God! The brass band drowned out
the clown’s cry when Tolstoi ran him down, separated him from


the bike, spun it in a circle like a top and somehow climbed aboard,
at which moment everyone and everything hushed, to see what might


ensue. Never to give false promises, Tolstoi whispered to the clown,
Did not Christ command to use no force against the wicked? It is not


God’s will that we should live here without correcting wornout habits,
learning new ones, thus you see me atop your beautiful machine with


all my infirmities, eager to outride old age. The clown, like a patient
parent, steadied the handlebars and ordered Tolstoi to pedal as if his


life depended on it: Catch the wind, catch the wind, he shouted, while
Tolstoi thundered round and round, his tired heart beating so fast he felt


a little feverish, caught himself thinking shameful things, as if the devil
mocked him, and braked so suddenly he flew over the handlebars: Where


is salvation to come from now? he said to the clown who helped him up.
The clown’s lips barely moved: All one need do is make friends with God.


Co-authored by Stuart Friebert

Stuart Friebert’s DECANTING: Selected & New Poems recently appeared from Lost Horse Press, which has also published two volumes of his Kuno Raeber translations. A second memoir and stories appeared recently as well, FIRST & LAST WORDS from Pinyon Press, which will shortly publish BETWEEN QUESTION & ANSWER: Selected Poems of Elisabeth Schmeidel. “Found in translation,” an essay on SF’s ways with many a translation, has just appeared in the Antioch Review.

Annette Barnes is the author of a book of poems, Next In Line (Pinyon Press, 2017).