Coast Road Rider
And Johnny revs the engine
Hugging the twists of the road. Leaning into the unknowable, next bend. The sea on one side of him, the rest of the world on the other. One certainty, he thinks, is this body is not going to live forever. He carries the weight of this knowledge – the thing we all shun. The thing that hits us, Tess D’Urberville potent, at three in the morning. This could be the day I die. Happy Death Day! I’ve baked you a cake. So we run and we track our steps and electrolytes. We eat tasteless shit for the chance to buy a few more years. We mask our mortality with this skin-tone foundation, or that one. But Johnny’s a realist. He knows you can’t outride what you can’t outride.
Johnny’s saddle bags are heavy
A creaking leather jacket creates its own music. Some other creature’s skin on this creature’s back. A death’s head patch and rips, with reasons behind them and stories attached. The saddle bags accompany the jacket’s song, until they sag exhausted with the burden of their contents. A tool kit, a lunch box. A love letter, a gun. In the saddle, Johnny sags too because burdens aren’t particular on where they settle. Johnny’s burden consists of pictures in his mind. Bullet holes in metal, blooming like the splayed leaves of soon to be over roses. A mouth, open and ragged with the howl of grief.
Exhaust pipes roar hot metal
Like the exhaust pipe on his bike, Johnny’s put some crap out in his time. Rhyming verse about his dead father. Soporific poems on the beautiful nature of ferns. But the words don’t stop him seeing the people who were close to him, dead yet walking, in the most mundane of places. At the end of a road, by the bandstand in the park, in the supermarket. There and not there. Always a little perplexed and rather disengaged. And then there’s the poem that just won’t go away. A zombie poem that leaves its brain matter in his brain; grey and lurking. Read/unread/undead.
Wheels do what they’re meant to – they turn
Beneath the obvious noise of the bike, there are subtler sounds that the rider and the observer miss, but Johnny knows they’re there. The clink clink of the saddle bags’ buckles, the squish of the mud on the spokes of the wheels. Beneath the visor of his helmet, the complex smell of petrol and warm grasses and wind almost moves Johnny to tears. But he mans up, he shapes up. He puts on his old adolescent insouciance and laughs. And is there really anything wrong with this? His ridiculing of cancer? Of loss? Why not? Why not? Something will hit him soon enough, so he’ll laugh while he can. Needs must when the devil drives.
The questionable protection of a guardian bell
On his handlebar, Johnny has hung his guardian bell. It’s a scuffed-bronze metal and its clapper is, of course, a tiny skull. Its purpose is to protect the rider from the gremlins of the road. The pot holes, the hidden slither of an oil slick, every other human being. Johnny believes none of this safe passage shit, but never-the-less, he's tied the bell on with an expertly secured knot. Because what Johnny knows above anything else is that even the Norse gods carried their own apocalypse with them. To his left, the sea is a narrow, sharp reminder of the smallness of everything. Its water calls out to the water Johnny is made of. But to no avail. Here, he is vast and blue; without limit. Here, he is air.