A FEW WORDS ABOUT I’M ONLY BLEEDING
Well, of course, the title is from Bob Dylan. I’m a child of the 60’s, and generally I use Dylan in a playful way, since I have so many happy memories associated with his songs.
But sometimes I try to use Dylan to get to more serious subjects, as you’ll see in the next poem, Gentle Rain of Heaven (“Now Shakespeare, he’s in the alley, with his pointed shoes and his bells.”) It seems to me I use Shakespeare to introduce more serious subjects, like the Elven Queen, in Bottom’s Dream, but that’s a result of being an English major.
Here, at first, I’m trying to be playful, saying that I’m only happy when I’m bleeding, from
rugby or mountain biking – not serious bleeding, but just enough to let me know that I’m alive, that I’m playing the game.
After that, most of the poem is a straight-forward account of a day of mountain biking at York River State Park, near Yorktown, Virginia, with a high school friend named Rene. By-the-way, that’s a French Rene, a masculine name, not that Rene is completely French. His grandfather, I think, was French, maybe even Basque French, but Rene grew up in Bolivia, and his grandmother was Quechua, which you encountered in my first poem, Continent of Fire, and you’ll see again in Voices. His grandmother lived in the United States for years but refused to learn English. She used to say, “It was bad enough that I had to learn Spanish.” My point is that people may think of themselves as English or Irish, Spanish or Quechua, but the truth is usually a little more complicated. Even the English aren’t really English, but a mix of Celtic, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon. And we new-worlders all live together on the Continent of Fire.
But I digress. To get back to the poem, some of the mountain bike runs at York River Park can be very demanding. I’ve felt like I was going to die from an asthma attack from runs, and another friend who is a serious biker has been reduced to the floor with back pains.
This particular run went well, despite the heat and humidity – if you grew up in Virginia, you get used to it, but you still hate it.
But I do get serious for a moment when I mention Yorktown. The park is near Yorktown, where we – Americans, English colonists, whatever – defeated the English army at the end of the Revolution. At the surrender, the English band played “The World Turned Upside Down.” We had turned the world upside down for the English, but before that, we turned the world upside down for the Mattaponi and the other First Nations who hunted these trails before 1607. I’m glad we beat the English, but I grew up in Virginia. My ancestors enslaved Black people, marginalized the Indigenous People, and in return gave the world tobacco and lung cancer. As Dylan’s song continues, “I’ve got nothing, Ma, to live up to.”
But I’m not just trying to make some woke political point. No, my serious point is that the trail runs on through the heat and humidity, through a little sweat and blood, while the earth and sky bleed for us, as they have, millennium upon millennium.
The point is that we come and we go – First Nations, English colonists, American patriots,
Confederate rebels, and Americans again. We come and we go, but the earth endures forever, a field of action, where we make our choices and hopefully die without regrets. I’ll develop this theme a little more seriously in a later poem for my grandmother, “World without End” (“we’re going to live until we die”). But for now, listen to Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. The early albums are the best.