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Poetry and Medicine
February 21, 2001

On the Bike Path, Riding Home

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2001;285(7):853. doi:10.1001/jama.285.7.853

These college kids crowding the gravelled path
were learning the ropes in grade school
the day I drove over Bascom Hill
through clumps of students jaywalking
down Observatory Drive. Sun-flecked whitecaps
darted the lake, blackbirds buzzed the cattails,
and I, drained by ping-pong months of chemo
and radiation, gripped the steering wheel,
fighting the urge to mow down ranks of adolescents,
teach them all a quick lesson in mortality.
These years later, I bike past the lakeshore dorms,
set against green-again Bascom Hill—wheels spinning,
but not too fast—when movement flickers at the corner
of my eye. A coed's sudden gasp; her boyfriend's gruff
Shee-it; and I know: the chipmunk has skittered between
the wheels of my moving bike, dodged under the pedals
in its mad dash for cover of woods, a feat precise
as "running in," a schoolgirl finding the rhythm
of jumprope slapping pavement, spun by the aching
arms of friends. Is survival timing, or chance?
I could never run in, myself, not even to one spinning
line, much less two lengths of jumprope flashing,
the sinuous alternate arcs an illusory bounded cage.

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