To mourn the loss of a great poet, I’ve been reading poems by Jake Adam York. Below, I’ve included one of my favorites. It’s been published online in a variety of places and appears in his collection, Murder Ballads.
The bike, the handlebars, the fork,
spoked wheels still spinning off sun,
still letting go his weight as he
lay in the grass along Docena Road
just hours after the bomb went off
under the church steps downtown,
four girls dead, though they hadn’t heard,
Virgil with a bullet in his heart, Virgil Ware
who wanted a bike for a paper-route
who perched on his brother’s handlebars
and caught the white boys’ bullet
but never got a bike or a headstone
or a 14th birthday, Virgil and his brother
and the bike in the grass off Docena Road.
The handlebars, fork, and iron diamond
frame that held them both, warming
in the Alabama sun. Stars of paint and chrome
that rained all over north Birmingham,
up and down the Docena-Sandusky road,
nesting like crickets in the weeds.
And the seat, wearing at the edges,
the cushion opening like a cattail
to the wind. But the frame, still holding
handed down and down and down
till bright as a canna. Then laid
with its brothers in a tangle in the sun.
Then gathering heat and darkening.
Then weeds insinuating the fork,
the sprocket, the pedal, each iron artery,
working back toward the light.
Let their flowers open from the mouths
of the handlebars and the seat-post.
Let them be gathered from the frame
and the frame raised up. Let it be
hot to the touch. Let its rust burn
into the finest creases of the hand
and the warp of the shirtsleeve and the pants
and worked into the temples’ sweat.
Then let it descend into the furnace like a hand
that opens all its rivers, each tribute,
each channel, each buried town.
Let it gather this heat, this fire, hold it all.
Let the crucible door open like a mouth
and speak its bloom of light, molten and new.
Let me stand in its halo. Let me stand
as it pours out its stream of suns.
Let me gather and hold it like a brother.
And let it burn.