Sunday, July 6, 2008

the other side of the story

You know one of the reasons the eulogy topic pops into my head in terms of my father is because there are always a number of ways to see and describe a person or thing. It just depends on where you are standing.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Dad's funeral is that the young, hip, modern priest took our honest account of the old fella and really honed in on the, admittedly numerous, negatives. If he used the term "flawed" human being once he used it a thousand times. Said priest has since left the business, so I hear.

Still, my recent scribblings about an alternative eulogy in no way paint the entire picture of the man who raised me. And, to be honest, I would never write the other side of the Dorian Gray portrait here. But someone who has done that - in a form so wonderful I could never achieve - is writer, George Bilgere.

Listening to Writer's Alamanac ( on podcast over the weekend, this poem was read. Go with it for the beginning, really feel it then watch as George presents a subtle knife and quietly gives you a slice. He brings it back to the positive but, for my money, this is one helluva great presentation of the two faces of a family, the two faces of a story. In George's case the positive light seems like it might have been fictional. For me, thank God, it was anything but ...

Like Riding a Bicycle
by George Bilgere

I would like to write a poem
About how my father taught me
To ride a bicycle one soft twilight,
A poem in which he was tired
And I was scared, unable to disbelieve
In gravity and believe in him,
As the fireflies were coming out
And only enough light remained
For one more run, his big hand at the small
Of my back, pulling away like the gantry
At a missile launch, and this time, this time
I wobbled into flight, caught a balance
I would never lose, and pulled away
From him as he eased, laughing, to a stop,
A poem in which I said that even today
As I make some perilous adult launch,
Like pulling away from my wife
Into the fragile new balance of our life
Apart, I can still feel that steadying hand,
Still hear that strong voice telling me
To embrace the sweet fall forward
Into the future's blue
Equilibrium. But,

Of course, he was drunk that night,
Still wearing his white shirt
And tie from the office, the air around us
Sick with scotch, and the challenge
Was keeping his own balance
As he coaxed his bulk into a trot
Beside me in the hot night, sweat
Soaking his armpits, the eternal flame
Of his cigarette flaring as he gasped
And I fell, again and again, entangled
In my gleaming Schwinn, until
He swore and stomped off
Into the house to continue
Working with my mother
On their own divorce, their balance
Long gone and the hard ground already
Rising up to smite them
While I stayed outside in the dark,
Still falling, until at last I wobbled
Into the frail, upright delight
Of feeling sorry for myself, riding
Alone down the neighborhood's
Black street like the lonely western hero
I still catch myself in the act
Of performing.

And yet, having said all this,
I must also say that this summer evening
Is very beautiful, and I am older
Than my father ever was
As I coast the Pacific shoreline
On my old bike, the gears clicking
Like years, the wind
Touching me for the first time, it seems,
In a very long time,
With soft urgency all over.

"Like Riding a Bicycle" by George Bilgere, from The Good Kiss. © University of Akron Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. – I stole from

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