new haven, ct

31 MARCH 2009


Poem with a Highway through Its Center
Elegy for Appalachan Wheels and Ten Extra Pounds

About Jason Labbe




Hard on the throttle in third the rider traces the white center line. Blasting along backroutes through pitch black is a private posterity when he takes a tight blind right pushing sixty. The point is to muscle the motorcycle into a severe lean, to touch footrest to pavement, lightly. To leave behind a faint smear of rubber nobody will see. The point is precision. There is no moon and so no highbeam. The exhaust note spreads into vague meadows and jagged black tree clusters. The exhaust note enters houses whose lights come on or don’t. 

The woman loses interest in her club soda, excuses herself from a conversation about recent heat and humidity. She touches up her lipstick without a mirror, one smooth curving motion.  Touches bottom lip to top. She leaves him one last message. Drops her phone into her purse and something breaks.

Losing the town at your back.  Restaurants and theatres full of couples.  Full of lights.  The road narrows again, winds through blackening woods.  Arrival, a clearing, is not the point.  Focus is not thinking about the point. Focus is watching the roadside ditch for a shift, for glowing eyes. Something that could tangle with the front wheel and bend spokes like grass.

How could the party miss him.  The rider believes the harder he speeds the less he will be remembered. The woman believes every exhale pressures an object. Moves it. Fleck of dust, a finger, a machine of metal. Once the woman wanted her breath to be a losing long-distance runner’s sudden tailwind. The rider wants to weave a breeze through an invisible tree. Without disturbing a twig or leaf. He accelerates hard out of a tight left.  Every turn is away.




Q: I am full of jealousy and oranges.
One’s fuel, the other’s out of season.

I am on my motorcycle and third gear
has spread a glaze of ice across the city.

Hard on the throttle and up-shifting
I have sun in the rearview. But give me

a tighter corner in fourth, another hour
without sleeping, every evening oblivious

to traffic signals and a bus’s slow skid
toward the guardrail. Winter can’t give

good oranges or traction in a hairpin.
No market’s near enough, or tropical.

Whalley Avenue isn’t cold enough, and no
passenger could handle fifth, a climax

worth some grey in my beard. My left eye. 
I am full of bluster and growing leaner

so as to ergonomically fit the machine
that wants to injure me. I am neither tired

nor hungry. Suspend daylight in a cloud,
orange glow sinking behind downtown.

I am hard on the throttle and out of gears.
What is this beating under my jacket.



poem with a highway through its center

I busk for fare, I sing in key with delayed departures and hum out of tune with on-time arrivals. I could have faked another stationary day if it weren’t for the plane circling all morning above the city. I ignore the warnings and go there and there by subway. My favorite direction is away. Leave your bike unlocked and watch me pick up speed, watch me steal a side-street of shade. From the truckroute, leading a big rig revving in a low gear, I wave to you and you speeding across the Throgs Neck, the Triboro, the Whitestone. Because my pickup is rust and smoke. I want to know the man rowing in the Hudson as I know the shortcut that reconciles—by winding, climbing, and descending—columns of skyscrapers with miles of pine. Seaside, the city, is flat. Still, cresting a hill is not the opposite of passing through the bottom of a valley. There are sharp stones underfoot and branches scratching my back, either route opens to a meadow and a parking lot. A light tailwind nudges me to anywhere warm, and I pluck another tack from the transcontinental map. The bus pulls up, the tanker shoves off. I roll down the window, I take off my helmet. Nobody owns the road, the minute remnants of wheels. My trail of dust.




All the beautiful women rode off on the train I missed. On the next F a man wearing a wrinkled shirt and scuffed loafers tapped my shoulder and asked, what are you listening to? Nothing, I said, and left on my headphones. Me too, he said. I snapped back, are you sure? I ask because you have scuffed shoes. Why so I do, he said, and I got off at Rockefeller Center. Later I was eating an avocado and red onion sandwich in the plaza, in the sun. The tallest, most beautiful Asian woman I’ve ever seen sat next to me, even though several well-shaded benches were empty. Tattooed up her left bicep was an angry looking koi, light blue bubbles rising, and a light green weed concealing a sharp strip of noon. The fish’s eye was dark as deep water viewed from the surface. Just as I thought the woman would speak, she paused, then pulled from her handbag a pair of black sunglasses with thick frames. She unfolded each arm carefully, deliberately, then positioned the sunglasses on top of her head. They disappeared into her thick black hair. I heard what you said to that poor man this morning, she said. But I missed that train, I said.



elegy for appalachan wheels and ten extra pounds

The Blue Ridge Mountains were to live under
or we would have had a dog.
The thunder was never Northeastern
so we could not stay too long.
And who wouldn’t look for a New Haven
parking lot weight-loss program
if their bicycle were stolen and thrown
from a ledge along the Blue Ridge Parkway?
We hated that place.
That demented ranger owes us.

Who can sleep when you’ve slept so long.


The Blue Ridge Mountains were to live under
until we reached the Merritt Parkway.
Still, we need July humidity
not a wild turkey
in the road at dawn. Who’s sleeping?
Give us our coma our daily forehead.
Call our theft grounds for a law suit
and damn the day we left
here for there. And, then, vise versa.


The Blue Ridge Mountains were to live under
so we dogged them in Edgar Hauler.
The Swedish engineers set out
to confuse us—
Damn the Volvo’s mysterious faulty ignition.
But who can drive when you’ve peddled
so long. Who’s weeping?

Lose Weight, Ask Me How!
We replaced the bikes so save the advice.
One life stepping on and off the scale
is not traded for, so much as it rides into, another
city. Growing lighter. Watch us
never again hang out our thumbs. Watch us fit
into the loose air, watch us fly.



's poems appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, American Letters & Commentary, AGNI, Barrow Street, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Court Green, Quarterly West, The Hat, Cue, and other journals. He's a working musician and divides his time between Bethany, Connecticut and New York City.