My girlfriend and I on bicycles in foggy dusk
gratefully coasted downhill to Southampton docks
to take the ferry to France.
Week two of a three-month trip
so we still photographed everything:
us, waiting. Not married yet, so still
we photographed everything. Us.
Waiting. Ready to board
but the ferrymen went on strike.
All the cars in the long line
groaned, sighed, and turned around.
We on bicycles and four others on foot
stood deserted at the oily edge of sea.
They loaded us in a van,
wedging our bikes in back, and drove
to Dover where we caught the last dark
un-struck ferry across the channel.
In Calais, another van met us,
the driver, reluctant refugee from dreamland,
jammed us in again. We slumped
against strangers and each other
in the even tinier van.
The plan: travel the summer
then marriage in the fall. The bold lines
of that map obscured all detours.
The driver dumped us in La Havre
on an empty street in the center of town.
4 a.m. Forced to leave, we tumbled out.
Our sad six wandered the nothing
of those silent streets.
Gambling is not a virtue, nor is not playing
at all. Empty casino streets, no dealer, no one
to call. Darkness hissed through our bones.
We walked our bikes behind the others
till we found a small hotel, its dim-lit lobby
unlocked, and parked ourselves on two
grim couches to wait for light.
Light does not always come
and certainly does not always stay.
If that sounds stupid, stay up all night
and call me in the morning.
Has God said too much, or not enough?
Shouldn’t the Bible still be going on?
At dawn we rode off on bent rims
till we found a man who knew a man
who trued our wheels
in a garage off an alley.
We staked our tent on the edge
of a campground lined with empty trailers.
Early in the season, June 6, my birthday,
My girlfriend had stashed candles.
She stuck them in a tart,
and I wished.
Destination is a wet rag wrung out, hung out
to dry only to get rained on.
We cycled on straight, narrow roads
till the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel
appeared through mist
like a cartoon paradise or villain’s tower, depending
on the quality of light piercing the cynical fog.
It grew larger as we approached
though roadside cows were unperturbed.
We had timed one thing right:
we walked across the narrow bridge
and back before the tide made it an island
We were getting married. She had purchased
an expensive dress. We were foolish with love
and the future. To connect to land, then
let the water surround us again.
We rolled up our pant legs and escaped.
I’ve never given a sermon, but it would be that:
Be separate. Be connected.
Make money off the tourists.
We road fifteen hundred more miles
to Zagreb to meet her father’s family
who gave us gifts too large for our panniers.
But in Mont St. Michel, we took pictures
of the water rising, cutting us off
from our other lives.
We got back on the bikes and rode off,
though we looked back
frequently, though we faced a future
where we could not count on
boats, nor their posted timetables.
JIM DANIELS‘ new book, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013. His poem “Factory Love” is displayed on the roof of a race car. A native of Detroit, Daniels teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.