Is there anything that says freedom better than a bicycle ride in summer? Imagine losing that freedom, and what can replace it. Below Carolyn Gammon shares her poem, “The Little Cyclist.” Gammon lives in Berlin with her partner, Katharina Oguntoye, who recently received the German Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) for her life’s work with the Black, POC and LGBTQI communities, and who now needs a set of wheels to get around. In fact, they have organized a funding campaign to make their next dwelling wheelchair accessible (see below).
“The Little Cyclist” is from the collection of poems about Gammon’s mother, who had dementia, On Her Own Terms: Poems about Memory Loss and Living Life to the Fullest, Harbour Publishing, paperback, 2021.
The Little Cyclist A lifelong cyclist Mum never lost the thrill Spiffy that last ride sunset orange jacket racing-stripes helmet feet in rat traps like a pro The next home I brought her a little cyclist eight inches high With a flick of a switch he pedalled away legs pumping, lights flashing along the waxed buffed corridors Mum loved the little cyclist following in her wheelchair wherever he went she never passed politely let him lead the way Homecare workers smiled to see the little cyclist round a corner, knowing Frances would be on his heels One time we all travelled together the little cyclist, Mum and I talking about road trips with Kay Magdalen Islands, Rocher Percé waterproof panniers packed with snacks “PEI is more hilly than I thought!” “A hard day’s journey” The little cyclist hit a bump and fell Must have a flat, we said I righted him and on we went corridor after corridor dining room pond aquarium nurses’ station, civilization Wheeled and gabbed heart to heart waved at passersby until at last the little cyclist headed home Home, home to the room with photos of Frances and family “Look! That’s me!” delighted to be back That evening Mum asked me to write a letter for her “Dear Father, I’ve been away on a trip I know I promised not to be gone long Carolyn is such a good companion” The little cyclist on his kickstand within view Frances speaks of roads she’s travelled Who’s to say we’re not relaxing after fifty K That Frances had not been to Rocher Percé that day? I am not exactly kicking up my heels, but I am moving them along the floor. —Carolyn Gammon, On Her Own Terms: Poems about Memory Loss and Living Life to the Fullest, Harbour Publishing, paperback, 2021, p. 60.
- In “Her Heart Still Beats in New Brunswick“, Gabriella Goliger describes Gammon’s collection, On Her Own Terms, as “a series of narrative poems that record the journey of memory loss, both the painful experiences and prejudices encountered, but also the wonderfully positive moments and triumphs.” (3 Oct. 2019)
- Gammon interview on The Commentary.
- Katharina Oguntoye — Help for a Community Hero.
Header photo of Berlin bicycles by Martin Riese.