Poetry daily plays a vital part in my life now.
I’ve always enjoyed it, but for many years, including my time in university, my literary interests centered around the short story and the novel. Never was poetry at the forefront of my mind. This ride has changed that completely. I had begun writing my own stuff the year before, back in Japan, due to a really great and supportive open mic night and writers’ workshop in Tokyo, and I’d devoured and adored plenty of collections by Sexton, Bukowski and the like, but true consisten reading and processing and memorizing and reflecting upon poetry every single day began in the Arctic.
Looking for a substitute for coffee for the team one cold morning in the first week of Pedal South, I glanced through a poetry app I had downloaded (by the Poetry Foundation) for something that might be fun to read out loud over breakfast. The first poem I randomly came to was Robert Bly’s “The Fat Old Couple Whirling Around”:
The Fat Old Couple Whirling Around
The drum says that the night we die will be a long night.
It says the children have time to play. Tell the grownups
They can pull the curtains around the bed tonight.
The old man wants to know how the war ended.
The young girl wants her breasts to cause the sun to rise.
The thinker wants to keep misunderstanding alive.
It’s all right if the earthly monk is buried near the altar.
It’s all right if the singer fails to turn up for her concert.
It’s good if the fat old couple keeps whirling around.
Let the parents sing over the cradle every night.
Let the pelicans go on living in their stickly nests.
Let the duck go on loving the mud around her feet.
It’s all right if the ant always remembers his way home.
It’s all right if Bach keeps reaching for the same note.
It’s all right if we knock the ladder away from the house.
Even if you are a puritan it would be all right
If you join the lovers in their ruined house tonight.
It’s good if you become a soul and then disappear.
It blew me away. I thought about it the entire day and many days after that. It gave a kind of framework to my 9+ hours of wandering thoughts on the bike. It became a kind of equal parts grounding material and stretching routine for my feelings and thoughts and memories and emotions. I began starting every day with a poem, or a few, and have continued every day since.
Before Pedal South began I worried greatly as to how I could possibly capture and present everything that would happen on the ride through writing. While certainly there is value in jotting down the key points of each day in a journal, I knew, sort of, that I’d have to go a step further to really extract the juice out of each memorable moment. Experimenting with different forms early on, writing terse little poems of each standout person, place, or event we encountered quickly emerged as my most satisfying means of suitably translating the feelings and tones I experienced and wanted to share.
To your rabid, angry screams of exasperation and fury over the lack of Dyar poetry presented thus far, I now quell your discontented, disquieted souls with two bits of hopefully exciting information regarding my personal writings:
1. I am RIGHT NOW working on the first of what will be many audio pieces in which my own original poetic works will combine with the related soundscapes and dialogue they were inspired by, which I have painstakingly captured in almost every location we have traveled through.
2. I am writing a majority of my poems about our travels in relation to each other, with plans to construct, at the end of the ride, a single, grand epic poem (epic is a style in this sense, not a slaughtered false synonym for ‘awesome’).
I am incredibly excited about both of these projects. I have also begun to seek out poetry amongst those we interact with on a daily basis. It’s delightful to see what sneaks into the permanent memories of people in a specific culture. Today I have for you an absolute treasure which I dug up in the beautiful little mountain town of Miahuatlan, Oaxaca.
In the community center gym where we’d be sleeping that night, a small group of small boys approached me, each about 8 or 9 years old, and started asking the same run-through of questions we are asked every day—where are you from? How heavy are the bikes? How long you been riding? etc… but quickly they changed to much more specific, sharp questions—What are you writing there? Poetry. What about? Uhhh, some sad stuff. Why sad? Just cause…I don’t know…don’t worry, there’s happy stuff on this other page—the fact that we were conversing in Spanish this well was %100 a testament to their cleverness and ability to understand my intentions, 0% my Spanish language proficiency.
They seemed to me overly interested in poetry for kids their age, especially with a delightful plethora of well-aired basketballs sporadically scattered around the floor nearby. After they simply watched me write for a while, I finally asked them if they knew any poems and if they would share them. As boys will, the entire group quickly betrayed a single member, named Luis Alberto, and scooted him, against his will, before me. He recited the following poem:
La mandarina que me diste
fue de vidrio y se rompió.
El amor que tu me diste
fue poquito y se acabó.
(Rough translation by me below)
The tangerine that you gave me
was made of glass and broke.
The love that you gave me
was small and ran dry.
I suppose I was expecting some kind of Latin American Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein-esque verse? Something lighthearted and comical and moral-inducing? Anything but a deep and somber, very heavy weight which I would (gratefully) carry with me ETERNALLY after.
Investigating into the poem via google, I was confused to find no results for ‘La Mandarina’, but I did find many slightly different versions of this poem in which ‘el anillo’ was used instead, meaning ‘the ring’. This may make more literal sense, but my little poem-reciting friend and his companions were quite sure the title and initial subject of the poem is ‘la mandarina,’ and anyhow, I think it’s a million times better that way.
I didn’t have the Spanish or the time to dive further into where he learned it, why he learned it, what he thinks about it, who taught it to him, or why the tangerine as opposed to the ring, and I’m quite content regardless. What I know and celebrate with myself, and now with you, is that there are countless gleeful little Mexican children out there spouting forth poetry that grabs your heart and holds fast, like an anchor.