Her name I may or may not have made up,
But not the memory,
Sandy Moon with her lion’s mane astride
A powerful motorcycle waiting to roar away, blipping
The throttles, a roar, years before such a sight
Was a commonplace,
And women had won,
And before a helmet law, or
Wearing their hair long, had made all riders one
Sex till you looked again; not that her chest
Wasn’t decisive—breasts of Ajanta, big blue-sky clouds
Of marble, springing free of her unhooked bra
Unreal as a butterfly-strewn sweet-smelling mountainside
Of opium poppies in bloom.
It was Union Square. I remember. Turn a corner
And in a light year
She’d have arrived
At the nearby inky, thinky offices of Partisan Review.
Was she off to see my rival Lief,
Boyfriend of girls and men, who cruised
In a Rolls convertible?
The car was the caca color a certain
Very grand envoy of Franco favored for daytime wear—
But one shouldn’t mock the innocent machinery
Of life, nor the machines we treasure. For instance,
Motorcycles. What definition of beauty can exclude
The MV Agusta racing 500-3,
From the land of Donatello, with blatting megaphones?
To see Giacomo Agostini lay the MV over
Smoothly as a swan curves its neck down to feed,
At ninety miles an hour—entering a turn with Hailwood
On the Honda, wheel to wheel, a foot apart—
The tromboning furor of the exhaust notes as they
Downshifted, heard even in the photographs!
Heroes glittering on the summit before extinction
Of the air-cooled four-strokes in GP.
I saw Agostini, in the Finnish Grand Prix at Imatra,
When Hailwood was already a legend who’d moved on
To cars. How small and pretty Ago was,
But heavily muscled like an acrobat. He smiled
And posed, enjoying his own charming looks,
While a jumpsuited mechanic pushed his silent
Racer out of the garage, and with a graceful
Sidesaddle run-and-bump started its engine.
A lion on a leash being walked in neutral
Back and forth to warm it up, it roared and roared;
Then was shut off; releasing a rather heady perfume
Of hot castor oil, as it docilely returned to the garage.
Before a race, how would Hailwood behave?
Racers get killed racing.
The roped-off crowd hushed outside the open door.
I stood in awe of Ago’s ease—
In his leathers, like an animal in nature—
Inhumanly unintrospective, now smiling less
Brilliantly, but by far the brightest being in the room.
I feared finding his fear,
And looked for it,
And looked away so as not to mar the perfect.
There was an extraordinary girl there to study
Instead; and the altar piece, the lily
Painted the dried blood MV racing red,
Slender and pure—one hundred-eighty miles an hour.
A lion which is a lily,
From the land of Donatello: where else could they design
Streamlined severe elegance in a toy color?
A phallus which was musical when it roared? By contrast,
Hailwood’s Honda had been an unsteerable monster,
Only a genius could have won on it,
All engine and no art.
A lily that’s a lion: handmade with love
By the largest helicopter manufacturer in Europe,
Whose troop carriers shielded junta and emir from harm,
And cicatriced Presidents clutching
A golden ceremonial fly-whisk and CIA dollars.
How storybook that a poor country boy
Should ride the Stradivarius of a Count—
The aristocrat industrialist Agusta—against
The middleclass son of a nicely well-off businessman;
English; and weekly wallowing near death
On the nearly ungovernable Japanese horsepower.
A clone of Detroit, Honda Company, in going for power,
In peacetime displaced to motorcycle sales.
Honda raced no more. No need to to
Sell Hondas now. The empire flourished elsewhere
Than glory. I swooned in the gray even indoor air
Of a garage in Finland, as racetime neared.
Daylight blinded the doorway—the day beyond,
The crowd outside, were far away. I studied
The amazing beauty, whom Ago seemed determined to ignore,
Seated like Agostini in skin-tight racing leathers.
Her suit looked sweet, like Dr. Denton’s on a child;
Until—as she stood up—the infant’s-wear blue-innocence
Swelled violently to express
The breasts and buttocks of a totem, Magna Mater,
Overwhelming and almost ridiculous,
Venus in a racing suit,
Built big as Juno—out of place but filling up
The room, if you looked at her, which no one else did;
Though I still couldn’t tell
Who she was, whose friend she was, if she was anyone’s;
Whose girl, the one woman in the room.
The meaning of the enormous quiet split
Into men and woman around the motorcycle.
I thought of Sandy Moon,
Advancing toward me through the years to find me there,
Moving toward me through the years across the room
I’d rented, to hide and work,
Near Foley Square; where I wrote, and didn’t write—
Through the sky-filled tall windows
Staring out for hours
At the State Supreme Court building with its steps
And columns, and the Federal Courthouse with its,
And that implacably unadorned low solid, the Department
Of Motor Vehicles. I’d leaf
Through one of my old motorcycle mags
And think of Sandy Moon—and here she was,
Naked and without a word walking slowly toward me.
Women have won. The theme is
Only for a cello, is the lurking glow
Pooled in the folds of a rich velvet, darkly phosphorescent.
Summer thunder rumbled over Brooklyn, a far-off sadness.
Naked power and a mane of glory
Shall inherit the earth. Outside the garage,
The engine caught and roared—time to go.
March 22, 1979