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Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsicord pavane by Purcell
And the racer's twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell's chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante's heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn't, of course, I've fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsicordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.

—Michael Donaghy

from Shibboleth, 1998
Oxford University Press

Copyright 2001 by Michael Donaghy.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press from Shibboleth. Copyright 1991 by Michael Donaghy. For further permissions information, contact Oxford University Press,

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004) was born in New York to Irish immigrant parents and grew up in the Bronx. Donaghy is the author of five poetry collections, including Collected Poems (Picador, 2009).  

Learn more about Michael Donaghy at The Poetry Foundation.