Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poetry Moment: 'The Bicycle Ride' by Henry Israeli

Poet Henry Israeli
Liz Waldie
Poet Henry Israeli

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode’s poem is “The Bicycle Ride” by Henry Israeli.

As the child of a Holocaust survivor and an immigrant to the United States, Henry Israeli is keenly aware of how legacies of historical traumas shape and inflect his writing. He has lived in Pennsylvania for more than two decades, and his most recent poetry collections are Our Age of Anxiety, winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize, and god’s breath hovering across the waters. He is also the translator of three critically acclaimed books by Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku. He’s the founder and editor of Saturnalia Books, and teaches in the English & Philosophy Department of Drexel University where he runs the annual Drexel Writing Festival and the Jewish Studies program.

With our country’s aging population has come the unwelcome rise in various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. This disease affects not only the individual but their family and friends. It’s difficult for everyone involved to navigate this new terrain. Israeli writes that his father bikes along the “sunny streets of disorientation,” unaware of the “state he inhabits.” What can make this disease so difficult for those who are very much aware of the state their loved one inhabits is the feeling of betrayal as the person afflicted by memory’s loss moves farther away in time, unable to live with a mutual understanding of time’s shared history. In this poem, the poet asks the question that many ask, especially as they struggle to come to grips with such loss: How could you?

Here's —

The Bicycle Ride

              In the country of confusion my father
passes by clumsily on a 3-speed
              unaware of the state he inhabits.
You might say he’s confused, and mistakes
              long silences for the luscious drone
of an angel’s wing sweeping overhead.
              You might say he cannot focus on
confusion, that he rides along the sunny
              streets of disorientation as if he were
gliding over them, an insect following
              the ancestral scent to the cave.
I wave and he nods a little, lowering
              his chin. Think of me, I think aloud,
hoping he registers the amplification
              and frequency somewhere along the ride.
Don’t worry, I hear him call out,
              I know this country well. How could you,
I ask. How could you.
              He jerks the handlebars right and left
and turns out of sight. All night I invent
              dreams of betrayal and loss,
where at the end of the road the inexplicable
              divides from the unexplained,
and the ringing of my father’s little bell
              stops the traffic cold.


That was “The Bicycle Ride” by Henry Israeli.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.