Bike Haiku

This is a collection to which I add occasionally when something inspires me to write after a ride. I attempt to emulate the Japanese 5-7-5 syllables per line, as well as the conventions of seasonal references, use of imagery, and ironic juxtapositions.

Dead leaves spot the trail,
Pummeled by tropical rain.
Then cool winds; it’s Fall.

Street’s wet, clouds misty.
Legs say “Go now, better this
Than December sleet.”

Bellini blue sky–
Sunblaze etches lines, inks shade:
California day.

“I had right of way!”
A phyrric victory when you’re
A smudge on asphalt.

Today the Tour climbs
L’Alpe d’Huez.  I suffer on
Hunter Station Road.

Sunday on the trail:
Wide-load walkers, skates, kids, dogs.
Mantra: “On the left.”

Some cyclists climb, some
Sprint, some ride strong. My forté:
Descent in tailwind.

Gold oak, sweet leaf smoke,
Wooly Bears, foretell winter.
Not this dazzling day!

Days off reinforce
Age. Legs stiffer, hills steeper,
Headwinds unyielding.

Gasping that first chill
Breath exhilarates more than
Subsequent thousands.

After miles of pain,
Dead legs waken, pump like steel
Pistons pounding home.

The day labor crew
Seeks hard, cheap work.  They must loathe
Gringos in spandex.

Out the window snow
Sheets frozen streets.  Will I ride
Again ‘til April?

False flat, strong headwind:
Clear fists slam body, bruise lungs;
Viewless knives slash quads.

What strength!  What wattage!
Passing Ullrich, Big Mig, Lance.
Oh—just a tailwind.

Full-zip Kelme shirt,
Warm sun. Now real hard work starts
On the summer tan.

The virgin Spring comes:
Frogs peep; redbirds nest; I shrink
From her frigid kiss.

I model my style
On the best: Armstrong’s gearing
And Ullrich’s cadence.

Barreling downhill
On a Bianchi, hail hurts—
Airborne sandpaper.

Winter’s sinus drip
Past, spring sun warms cherry blooms.
Now my nose runs sweat.

Fallen mulberries,
Sweet wet honeysuckle air:
I must ride at dawn.

Bridge underpass: dark,
Damp, earth smells—summer cellar
Respite.  Flash!  The sun.

Bike skitters sideways.
Gusts bluster, feign, counterpunch,
Jab.  Headwind both ways.

Rain riding’s great fun—
Cool drops, sweet hay scents.  Fun if
You don’t turn or brake.

Panes steam like showers.
Sauna air without nude Swedes.
July: ride inside.

No speed, no power,
Only rhythm and sweat are
Left to bring me home.

Twenty miles out
The odd mechanical glitch
Sours a happy day.

Sweat runs; lungs gasp close
Garage air. Still I ride out
Into the cauldron.

Gold, purple fields seem
Summer.  Sun blazes. But also
Comes the Wooly Bear.

Drizzle and sweat mix
On silent pearly fall days.
Only tires’ hollow hiss.

Each leaf’s pale backside
Moons the sun.  Gusts freewheel me
Effortlessly home.

New bike!  Like flying:
No chain; lift.  Pegasus flaps;
I pedal skyward.

Bugs hit like raindrops.
Gasping air, I suck gnat clouds.
Teeth gritty, I spit.

First day in leggings:
Cold face, nose drip, stiff quads—what
Happened to summer?

Healthy bike tan fades,
Blends with the secret it hid:
Old man’s white corpse flesh.

Bikers roaring past:
Legs and lungs drive me; they use
Beer guts and cheap gas.

Five kilos too fat.
Too late to find winning form
For this summer’s Tour.

Dark rainy March winds
From steppes of Central Asia
Blast my homebound face.

Peepers ignore cold
Water, frost, rain-gales. Sun’s
High: they sing, it’s Spring!

Hard night rain; trail’s wet,
So’s my back; fragile cherry
Petals my carpet.

Cycle chicks pass. I
Glance to check out what they’ve got:
Specialized or Trek?

Silver spokes’ shimmer,
Tires’ hollow hum, chain’s tick—
Put me on my bike.

Mist rises from glass,
Fogs shades. Still air, birdsong, hush.
Early morning ride.

Sweat burns eye sockets,
Drips, soaks, blurs.  But it’s so cool:

Westbound, shadow slides
South.  Eastbound, at noon, it’s gone.
Hail Summer Solstice!

Hazy, hot, humid—
Sweat; katydid’s dry chirp.  Just
Autumn’s deception.

Cicada divebombs
Into my shades; with mad buzz
Pinwheels into weeds.

Sunblaze gold veins glitter
Between leaden clouds, promise
To light the way home.

Sunset rays flicker
Among trees, strobing my eyes,
Blinding with light, dark.

Dark bike, dark rider
Pace me, poised to pass, silent—
Cast by winter sun.

Late winter deceives:
Pale sun warms, melts, entices.
Still, nose drips, wind nips.

No deception beats
The tailwind’s insinuation
That my legs are strong.

Pennsylvania hills
Roll, farms bask, pedaling PA
River to river.

Like Chinese poets,
Dwarfed cyclist, I seek The Way
Among snow-mountains.

Salt cakes sunglasses,
Stings eyes, sours cycling jersey.
Wet season of sweat.

Evaporation cools!
After hot sweat-soaked stop, I
Speed to thrilling chill.

Three white November
Butterflies: don’t you know Death
Waits in the night’s frost?

White throat, quick glance, black
Bright sparrow eye spies my cold
Flight, fast past his twig.

Summer’s hottest day
Tempts me to know sweat; I climb
Hunter Station Road.

Warm winter: creek runs,
Shallow ripples shimmer, glint,
Simulating ice.

3 thoughts on “Bike Haiku

  1. This is epic! Love the panorama of the seasons, the intensity of bike-riding. Do you know Gary Snyder’s work? You might like–

    Steering into the sun
    glittering jewel-road
    shattered obsidian
    Gary Snyder

    Ever since I heard him mention in a lecture the use of kigo (seasonal markers) in Japanese haiku I’ve been searching for a book on kigo, without any luck so far. Plus we need an American kigo book. I think you could write it. Just a thought.

    • Thanks so much for these comments. Gary Snyder is my favorite Beat poet, and one of my faves of all time. There was a haiku of his (formally inexact but so spot-on) in a textbook I taught from once:
      After six weeks of watching the roof leak
      I fixed it tonight
      By moving a single board.
      Hope you enjoy the blog!

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