Volume 34, Number 2

On the Bike Path

She has lost her glasses, this young broad-faced
Asian woman is saying.  Having seen
me pick up something from the ground, she wonders
if I’ve found them.  Just moments before,
she erupted in anger, yelling at her phone
in Mandarin, breaking the peace of the path
in a display that was incongruous at best.
(Her friends wouldn’t come back to help her look.)
But no, I picked up a bottle, not glasses.

Her sunglasses were costly, two hundred dollars
from a fancy store.  I understand.

I understand the need to treat one’s self
to nice things, especially in this hostile land
called America.  I understand anger, anger at friends
who don’t seem to care.  I understand loss,
for today she may have lost a friend
with that outburst on the phone.
I understand how it feels to be alone.

I've never liked the Chinese, their national character,
the tyranny of their leaders; but there is nothing
in this sad, wet face that fits my racial calculus,
that isn’t similar to mine, that doesn’t make
me want to set her world to right, if I can.

She takes off on her bike, searching, and I
pedal home, wondering what kind of person
I am who paints the world in broad strokes,
who sees a chasm where there isn’t one—
and wondering if I’m a hostile American too.

—Caleb Perry Murdock