Moto Poeta

Frederick Seidel

Now and again, I feel a throb
Passing through my body like a sob,
Which is both painless and of no consequence,
Like a wave washing up on a beach,
But which feels like or prompts the thought
It may be the beginning of a stroke,

But probably it is just the irregular heartbeat
Of atrial fibrillation (AFib)
Or starting up a reluctant motorcycle.
The word throb makes it sound
As if it had to do with sex.
The word motorcycle means it does.

Jeff Nash is starting up a Ducati Supermono
At Advanced Motor Sports,
His splendid shop in Dallas,
Ducati motorcycles all around, all red, all beautiful,
Ducatis as far as the eye can see,
Each small and perfect as a ladybug.

The little Supermono
With a splash of mustard color on its tail is arguably
The most beautiful.
The single cylinder motor needs a separate
Starter cart to start it.
This is a race bike, which means without a starter or lights.

The starter cart has a wheel which rotates pressed
Against the raised rear tire of the Supermono,
With the clutch lever pulled in, which when Nash releases it
Blat Blat Blat ejaculation
And then the explosion smooths.
The music makes some people

Listening to the exquisite
Concert actually cry.
There is a company called
Keyboard Motorcycle Shipping
That, not so long ago, only

Transported nine-foot concert grand pianos
And racing motorcycles,
That was their only cargo,
Music flowering into power.
Nash is what
Used to be called in the movies
The strong silent type,

A kind, courteous, muscle-bound gentleman with brains,
Very smart, very honest,
Very old-fashioned in his politeness,
Very smart, very honest, very old-fashioned good manners.
I admire him for all these things,
And for being ruthlessly capable of running the competition

Off the track.
I have four motorcycles at his shop.
His wife Toni I admire as well.
In Sag Harbor, New York,
Water all around,
Where many moons ago I dwelled,

Oh what a lovely little place, far from boiling Dallas,
Country roads where I rode my motorcycles, catapulted
At a hundred-miles-an-hour midair
By the rippling, bucking Old Montauk Highway,
Which you enter after Amagansett,
Roller-coastering high enough

To see the nearby blue eye of the ocean.
In Sag Harbor, New York,
Water on three sides,
Lives Jason Epstein, ninety years old.
He was my first publisher
And was somewhat sinister,

And spoke in a sinister whisper,
But was a man of surpassing charm.
He read the manuscript of my book Final Solutions overnight
Which had been involved in a widely publicized scandal,
Had won a prize which was then taken away
After I had declined to accept the prize anyway

And all the judges had resigned.
Jason was ready to publish it in his Looking Glass Library
Series of children’s books,
Unperturbed by the legal threats
Which had frightened off the others.
We were having fun and Bennet Cerf,

Jason’s boss, the head of Random House, went along,
Pointing up at the glowering cathedral next door
And Cardinal Spellman’s silky power there,
Which leased Random House its space below.
‘That fairy is going to throw me out of here
Because of you, Fred!’

Bennet is long dead.
Jason, we are both getting on.
Once, we were out on Jason’s boat with our wives,
On our way to Block Island,
With our friend the novelist John Marquand
Who wrote under the name John Phillips

Because he was the son of the novelist John Marquand,
All of us hungover from the night before at George’s,
And under the heatstroke summer sun
Jason ran us aground on a sandbar
And we were stuck in that watery hot hell of Long Island August,
And I had to get down in the water

And tow the big boat by its hawser off the sandbar,
A young man pulling a yacht
In the middle of Long Island Sound,
Which surely looked odd
With deep water all around.

I saw a photograph of a woman I didn’t know
In a family scrapbook my granddaughter
Had put together for a school assignment.
It was my mother.
That can’t be my mother.
Here was this vastly old lady
Facing the camera unsmiling.

My mother’s blue-eyed schizophrenia plus electroshock
Had always kept her lovely skin unlined.
The unlined woman of my memory and fantasy apparently
Had turned into a raisin while I wasn’t looking,
That I too must be turning into.
A wrinkled mummy of my beautiful mommy

Goes skipping down the street
With a child’s balloon on a string
Gaily bouncing along above her head.
In the balloon is my father,
Imprisoned in helium,
Who loved her.

The stars at night are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas.
They squeak and flap.
They swoop and shriek.
I struggle to bench-press the United States
Up off my chest.

Halfway between the twin ends of the barbell,
Halfway between diarrhea and constipation,
Lifting the Trump White House off my chest,
Here I am, with my harem of motorcycles, in Dallas, Texas,
Lifting the White House off my chest,
Lifting the roof off to let the bats out.

I lift the roof off the White House
To let the spiders out for their walk.
They walk and talk off the record.
They spin their sticky.
They get into your eyes and your mouth.
I’m not taking them up on it.

I take five different pills every morning who once took none,
A happy man on whom the sun is going down
Every dawn.
Dallas boils in August.
Flames leap off the Ducatis in the air-conditioned showroom.
They’re silently ready to be alive.

I have a Ducati 999 FO5 racer, dubbed
Moto Poeta by the factory race-department mechanics
Who knew they were making it for a poet,
A motorcycle which twice tried
To catch fire with the alarmed rider astride,
Whose poet private parts nearly fried.

The cattle are metal
That stampede down the highway
In the stun-gun heat
Of morning rush hour Texas August.
In the hotel lobby where we’re meeting,
We freeze to death in brutal Texas air-conditioning.

A man taking a blood thinner
To reduce the chance of stroke
Had better not race his 999
Down the final straight
At the Circuit of the Americas,
Here in the Lone Star State

Because if he crashes
He won’t be able to stop bleeding.
Lee Harvey Oswald, not far from our hotel, still
Steadies his rifle in the open window
Of the Texas Book Depository, still getting ready to kill
President John F. Kennedy when the motorcade drives by.

Jeff and Toni
Lead our party on our last night to a friend’s restaurant
With a racecar and motorcycles
And an airplane on display inside,
And there’s even a one-person submarine
In an enormous oblong fish tank

Where magnificent fish swim about.
We sit at a long table
And tell each other the story
Of our steaks and lobsters,
Of our foie gras and Sauternes,
And the story of our glory,

And tell the poor outside the restaurant,
Tell the homeless all around us in the darkness,
That we couldn’t stop until we stopped,
Ten thousand cartons through the years,
Three packs a day because we were fools:
Unfiltered Camels, Gauloises, Gitanes and Kools.

I notice the wretched.
I mention the homeless.
I stride down the sidewalks where the homeless live
Who are ill and unable to stand and love.
I stride down the street,
My heart in AFib.

Motorcycles are what I’m made of,
That start and go fast and don’t crash and don’t end,
And that go faster than that and faster.
And the poems are like dogs that stand up
On their hind legs and bark
To get your attention.

I can remember the overwhelming breasts of Betsy Green,
Like some fertility goddess in the Ajanta caves,
Where forty years ago in New York
I feasted and drank.
I can remember the bitter taste and stink
Of my ecstatic smoker’s saliva on them, worshipping.

I can remember
That as you enter the harbor you hear
The buoy clanging
Through the fog.
Bong, bing, clang, ding, the buoy sings,
Rocking back and forth, lifted on wings.