The following teachers and poets contributed their thoughts to AlienFlower (1995 - 2009)
Zeno's Progress can be found in The Art of Bicycling: A Treasury of Poems. The anthology, published by Breakaway Books, marks the first full-scale attempt to compile the world's best poetry about the sport of bicycling, with photos throughout by François Portmann. The project is a combined effort of roughly 200 contributors, from Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove, Thomas Centolella, and C.K. Williams to first-time poets. Justin Belmont, editor, emailed AlienFlower to share with us because he believes his book will appeal to AlienFlower poets many of whom ride bikes and enjoy aerobic exercise.
by Thomas Centolella
It is always late at night and always the night in mist
when these paradoxes are felt the most.
How can the boy leave a life force behind
in that dream house of his, and make it back on his bike
along the winding brick side streets,
through alleys no wider than two shoulders,
if at any one point his Peugeot is not moving?
It must be agony, wanting as much as he does
to get away quickly as possible, and getting nowhere.
On our way home across the street
we study him as we would the still
from a movie at the neighborhood theater:
we know that inside, larger than life, he is moving.
and move on ourselves. In a fog
that blurs even the streetlamps, the boy
is certainly not lit up. But the idea of being
someday beyond this impasse, of thriving
under a cupola that pinpoints Andromeda,
is a possibility seen in natural light.
Though he doesn't seem to mind
his young life is caught in this freeze frame,
his hands and nose and feet are getting cold.
And with that reminder he's off again,
until the next light that will stop him and hold him,
he's down the road again, an arm's length from traffic,
hunched over the elegant bones of his bicycle,
his progress blind, surging, prehistoric.
While farther and farther behind him, two floors
above the street, a man gets up in the night
recalling how interminable those still points seem
that got him here, and step by slow step
makes it to his desk to write all of this down.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound's the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
Here, in what has been called the "world's favorite poem" (though I'm not sure how they quantify such things), all the forces of life swirl and interpolate. The author has stopped his journey homeward for a stolen moment of mystery. He takes pains to tell us that he is in a scarcely familiar spot and he is almost stealing this interlude. For a poem that ends with such universal gravity, this simple beginning brings us in as intimates, virtual partners in crime, as it were. But there is no crime, except to the horse. The horse knows the way home, knows the routine, knows everything except the magic of the moment. He is like the person who can't stop to look at the sunset, or the flowers, or another human soul. We can't blame the horse and his laudable attention to the task at hand; frequently we ourselves are horselike since the responsibilities we incur come to own us. The poet however has broken through the mere "doing". The poet is "being". As in meditation, there is a certain amount of static between the surface and the depths of consciousness, but finally, truth and peace are on the other side. The last stanza brings so much to bear.
The moment of mystery is compelling. "…lovely, dark and deep." Frost shows genius in that these common words, which lock together in place so deftly, have a synergy that reveals all that would beguile us. We all have been at this place. This is where the roads divide. This is where the past and future meet destiny. Yet the rapture of darkness is broken by a simple remembrance-that "promises" have been made. So, even in the face of temptation, the poet chooses integrity as his mantra. But, in truth, what choice did the poet have? To stay there gazing at the falling snow until he froze to death? He made the only choice. To go back to his life, his routine, his responsibilities-and so the last two lines are repeated, woozily, hypnotically, part mantra, part voice of conscience, part resolution to the long way ahead. Such things can happen on the way home any night, to any of us.
Poems You Should Know art, above, is created by Danny Glix.