Paul Guest is the author of three volumes of poetry and one memoir: My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco Press, 2008), Notes for My Body Double (Bison Books, 2007), The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (New Issues, 2003), and One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco Press, 2010). The recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2007 Whiting Writers’ Award, Guest teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia.
I climbed atop the bike, feeling awkward from leaning out over the handlebars. All my life I had ridden single-speed bikes with twenty-inch wheels, dirt bikes, BMX bikes with lightweight steel frames. I felt unsafe but pedaled on slowly.
Jody's house sat at the top of a long, steep driveway. To either side, green lawns sloped down to the road. I didn't see Adam anywhere ahead. Already I was afraid I would wreck. The bike was getting away from me as it coasted down the long incline. I squeezed the right caliper handbrake but it was only mush, a sensation I had felt before on my own bike when the brake cable that ran down to the wheel had frayed or torn entirely. It was a problem I could fix myself but not in motion, not then. My fear began to grow.
I was resigned to the inevitability of crashing, and in those few seconds I had before the bike would be dangerously fast I decided it was better to crash on grass than to land on the asphalt.
I steered to the right, not into Jody's lawn but the grass between her yard and her neighbor's. I tried the useless brakes once more. Nothing.
Maybe I can lay it down in the grass, I thought, though I'm not even sure I knew what that meant. I was rolling over the smooth grass, frozen. I never tried to do anything but ride it out.
From One More Theory About Happiness
AT NIGHT, IN NOVEMBER, TRYING NOT TO THINK OF ASPHODEL
I’m no use for parties, for the idle language
which is all how hellish are the days
and dark or where did I find
that thread count or what do I think must be
done about et cetera. So I smile
and nod and never say much,
happy to be thought impaired
or mute and when asked
to name what I couldn’t live without
were I marooned on a desert island,
I say viable organs. Not a book and its pages
slipping from cheap binding
and not an album
that’s not an album
but summer’s totem forever
and not one deft lover
and not the red ringlets
of her hair let down in a grotto beside the sea.
To be consigned there,
to that island, that home
to the fetish of consolation,
is nothing I ever want
to want. To be stripped of desire
as if it were a bandage.
But here in the night made of alarms,
a train shambles
through the dark
and it’s hard to hear the trees speaking
the language we made
for them. Or I did,
thinking of you
who taught me regret.
There are nights when I dream
of stolen oranges.
How we ran away with the sun in our arms.
And there are nights
when I can’t speak,
not even to the wind
in the strange tongue of the dark pine trees.
From My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge