Article — From the November 2009 issue

About Motorcycles

My father was a hunchback. He had an accident on his bicycle when he was a child, which ended with his falling into a coal cellar, a fall of thirty feet from the sidewalk. There was an irony in this in that his family was in the coal business and he himself became the coal baron of the large industrial city where he lived, the foremost city in America for making shoes and beer. He had been an athletic daredevil of a kid, and he stayed athletic despite his injury. He was also a stoic. When the accident happened, and he fell to the stone floor far below, he lay there for hours, twelve years old, and then picked himself up, with a broken back, somehow got back up to the street, and walked across the city to his house, where he told no one what had happened. He walked with a broken back all the way home, where the only person who noticed that something was wrong with him was his older brother. He was made to go to a doctor, who put him in bed and put him in a tight corset, a torture chamber my father refused to wear. So the story went. My father never talked about the accident, not once. His refusal to keep the corset on, so the story goes, resulted in his hunch and his stunted growth. He had the large fine hands of a tall man, and a large handsome head, on his shortened body. He remained a gifted athlete, as I said, excelling at handball and golf, quick hands, good eyes, fast of foot. I used to marvel at the dozens of custom-made suits he had, which stylishly disguised the hunch. Once, when I was in Paris, eighteen years old, and tempted to buy a motorcycle, but needing money from home to do so, my uncle who had heard about this pleaded with me not to. My father, he said, would never bring it up, but his childhood accident would mean he would be terribly concerned for me. The bike I was thinking of buying belonged to a friend. Before I could buy it, I crashed on it, riding as a passenger behind my friend, with a beautiful girl squeezed in between us, three on a bike, a Triumph, going far too fast, all of us drunk, around Place de la Concorde, and slipping out of control on the wet cobbles at 4:00 a.m. Pardner, don’t get on a motorcycle with drink in you.

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Frederick Seidel's <em>Poems 1959-2009</em> was published last spring by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

More from Frederick Seidel:

Poetry From the August 2012 issue

Palm Sunday

Readings From the May 2008 issue


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