Annette Barnes

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

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