stop signs

i bicycle through the city in the
pre-dawn faint blue light from the wakening
sky, in the blue, white, yellow and red light
from buildings, signs, lamps and cars. down streets and
along sidewalks i roll on my ten-speed.

a man gets into his pickup truck, turns
on the headlights and starts the engine, puts
the truck in gear and pulls away from
the curb right away. i pass and think that’s
no way to warm up an engine and i

hope he doesn’t run me down. he’s behind
me as i carefully run a stop sign
he has to stop at. he passes and he
doesn’t stop at the next stop sign, he runs
it carefully. i am a leader of

men this morning, setting the example
for others to follow. i bicycle
through downtown, along the red-brick sidewalks,
using the wheelchair ramps at the street
corners to smooth and speed my passage.

across the street, at the army recruiting
center, a woman soldier stands outside
in the yellow light from the building’s lamps.
she stands in her camouflage uniform
and smokes a cigarette, i think, or

maybe she doesn’t but she should and i
want her, in her uniform, with her
muscular butt and her short blonde hair
under her army fatigue cap. i
bicycle by fast, hoping she sees me

and longs for civilians and i am a
fool, but a happy fool am i.
ahead of me at the next corner a
man digs angrily through a garbage can.
he has long, dirty blonde hair and is bald

on top. he wears the scruffy clothes of
america’s lowest and most-lost class,
the inmates and homeless, interchangeable.
he’s throwing garbage around, looking like
he’s looking for something of some value,

maybe an empty can for recycling
or a full one for drinking from, and as
i pass him he looks up and throws a piece
of garbage at me—a small, wadded up
piece of what feels like a junk food package

when it hits my leg. part of me wants to
turn around, stop my bike, get off and get
in a fist-fight with him for his insult,
but i am forty-seven years old this
month and long past brawling in the streets so

i console myself with the thought that he
has probably not been long out of jail
and will probably be there soon again,
while i will not be if i behave
myself; if i am careful which stop signs

i run and who sees me run them; if i
am careful to commit my worst crimes in
the privacy of my own home, toward
which i pedal my bicycle, rolling
slowly uphill into my neighborhood.

(Copyright 2005, 2023 by Tetman Callis.)

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