I set myself the task of writing a bunch of small poems in each of which the phrase 'the yellow bicycle' occurred. At a certain point it started to feel like 'schtick' to me you know, and I thought it would be interesting to put something up against the lyricism that in some way said 'no', and so this prose piece and the old woman saying 'no' to the lovers came into it.

The Yellow Bicycle


The woman I love is greedy,
but she refuses greed.
She walks so straightly.
When I ask her what she wants,
she says, “A yellow bicycle.”


Sun, sunflower,
coltsfoot on the roadside,
a goldfinch, the sign
that says Yield, her hair,
cat’s eyes, his hunger
and a yellow bicycle.


Once, when they had made love in the middle of the night andit was very sweet, they decided they were hungry, so they got up, got dressed, and drove downtown to an all-night donut shop. Chicano kids lounged outside, a few drunks, and one black man selling dope. Just at the entrance there was an old woman in a thin floral print dress. She was barefoot. Her face was covered with sores and dry peeling skin. The sores looked like raisins and her skin was the dry yellow of a parchment lampshade ravaged by light and tossed away. They thought she must have been hungry and, coming out again with a white paper bag full of hot rolls, they stopped to offer her one. She looked at them out of her small eyes, bewildered, and shook her head for a little while, and said,very kindly, “No.”


Her song to the yellow bicycle:
The boats on the bay
have nothing on you,
my swan, my sleek one!

from Praise(The Ecco Press, 1979), © Robert Hass 1979, used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Poetry Foundation recording made on 19 October 2007, New York.

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