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Ghost Bike

by Virginia Shank

bike 1.jpg

               “We all travel the same unsafe streets and face the same risks; it could just as easily be any one of us.” 



The white wheels loom luminous


out of the dark

                        draw the eye up from the crosswalk


to the spraypainted frame         the seat set


with bunches of lavender                       condolence cards



Locked to the sign


                            supposed to say pedestrians



though the bike belies this little lie        the story


not one about stopping


                                          some car careening


                                                       toward the freeway      unconscious


                                                                       of corners         of yellow whispers 


                                                                                                                              watch out



I can’t help but wonder what color it was


                             silver            orange            red? 


                                                         The wheels were once black


and the seat unseen      some body 



working there               pedaling hard        trusting perhaps


             the voice of the sign                                          The white lines





                                                          Then black

Now this white warning


                                         a wraith


                                                      waiting to say to me watch


                                                                                                              And maybe I should


out wandering sidewalks at 2 a.m.         longing for leaves


                                                                                    that sing like the sea

                                                                                    for chorus of crickets

                                                                                    for some sign this place could keep me alive


It’s hard to help it         I admit              walking


              unwary in the witching hour dark          watching


                             only the liverspot sky                            clouded and dim


                                                                     trailing like a hound the scent of water

                                                                                   only a sprinkler shaking out some sustenance


                                                                                   for the woebegone grass           curbed


                                                                                                  and clipped to a neat suburb slit


The trees here stay silent


                                            leaves kept close


                                                          for the heat                  They have to conserve


I understand


                             though I stand still


                                           beneath their manicured limbs and ache


for the windsong           the rainsong                 for life


One shouldn’t wander     the ghost bike warns


            mustn’t look over the overpass edge


                          lean into the fenceless air


                                                                      which would open arms


                                                                                 to draw you down to the asphalt


                                                                                               your blood


                                                                                               blinking back the river of taillights



The only sound the sound of tires


              the sound of something that was once alive


                            stopping the tide           the torrent of cars


                                                        quiet and finally                        looking


                                                           looking at that yellow voice


                                                           the nightgrey grass so tenderly tended


                                                           the white bike

Riding the Santa Ana River Trail

by Virginia Shank


I pedal past the palisades

the chainlink fence

and concrete cliffs

under the overpass roads

tireless tirethrum tinnitus

to the culvert curled like a cochlea 

where men wax and wane walking

the bright bones of channels

toward work or the shelter

toward can collecting

the liquor store 

one laundering his collared shirt

with Irish spring in a trickle


the sign calls a river 

another sign saying

no camping no storage

of personal property

the property owners

along the perimeter

peering below barbed wire

as they prune back

their orange trees

so no fruit falls

where one of the men

could pick it up

though someone

has lined up eight oranges

along the embankment

and left them

a gift or a sign an invitation

I do not return

but turn instead up

the last leg of trail

where surfers strip slick skins

beneath toweled hips

and then to the road

where plastic surgeons

sandwich McDonalds

and luxury auto dealers

where I must swerve

around the Lexus

pulling in to park

where I am begrudged

my sixteen inch shoulder

and all I can think of

spinning out ten miles

to the place I live

(Will I ever call it a home)

is the hope of olive 

oak and eucalyptus

sagetanged air

and the taste

of citrus




Virginia Shank writes, rides a velomobile, teaches at Irvine Valley College, and edits The Ear in Southern California, then summers in upstate New York. Poems have appeared in Third Wednesday, So It Goes, Rhino, and elsewhere.

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