The Bukowski Agency - The Motorcyclist - Excerpt
The Motorcyclist

by George Elliott Clarke


CARL THRUST BACK BEDCLOTHES—a bristling surf, and leaps up, ascendant, eager to start motorcycling afresh: To get from Easter to Christmas, astraddle, as if making love to the atmosphere and to the city and to the street. He dabs Brylcreem on his Negro curls; he slaps Snap on his hands, to scour away any invisible grit. Quick, he sheathes himself in black leather chic—from boots to jacket. The boots are so polished that sunlight, enmeshed in that dark dazzle, mirrors a solar eclipse. He’s had the toggery prepared for weeks. He picks up his black helmet that he’s painted so edgily, flames fringe the face area. Apollo Negro, now, he audits his flash in a full-length mirror, then strides—no, struts—out the door, awaiting, expecting, plaudits. He practically jogs to the Halifax Motorcycle Shoppe. Motorcycle man is slick; just sharp style—like Lee Van Cleef, only more coppery, less devious. Rough trade, he could be, forwarding such svelte, sporty black, a blackness that communicates—he posits—both hardness of head (or dick, when necessary) and softness of shoulder (or heart, where needed).

9 a.m.: Punctual, pale, reedy, spectacled, jet-haired Corkum enters from the back and flicks on the lights. He whooshes open the front door to his black-leather patron; exchange of hands. Corkum leads Carl through the shop and out back, bamming a screen door. Primed to go is “Liz II,” as Carl has named his motorcycle, out of black-knight, Romantic fealty to the Queen, symbol of virtuous Maternity, more so than is his own mother.

Besides, Carl has Royalist predilections: He likes Nat King Cole, just for the middle name of the Negro crooner. He’s not a huge fan of jazz, but he likes the monikers of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. And why shouldn’t he? His Aunt Pretty, a famed contralto, has scored the hat trick of serenading Edward VIII (thus becoming the only Canuck and only Negro to have an audience with the ephemeral monarch, who was, as it turned out, quite immune to her “Ol’ Black Magic”), then George VI (though he coughed throughout her performance—due to his Royal Prerogative of lung cancer), and, most recently, Queen Liz II herself, whose tiara boogie-woogied when she heard Pretty’s show-stopping aria as “Carmen.”)

The bike’s fresh polish is transparent silver. Liz II blazes; Carl beams. Offset by chrome parts and black rubber tires and grips, her royal purple shade flares gloriously, shaming the dull light of morn. Carl walks her down the driveway—like a groom takin his bride down the aisle. Boy oh boy, he thinks as he straddles the bike—mine—and does it ever feel good to be back on her.



Back to top