Riding my bicycle two-and-a-half miles to campus so I can teach my class, I don’t see any other bicycle commuters. There are joggers in the bike lane. There are idling ride-shares in the bike lane. There are people walking their tiny feefee dogs in the bike lane. When men speed past me in the bike lane wearing their spandex and their clip shoes and their ergonomic helmets, I take solace in the fact that this is not a race. All I need to do is arrive in time for class.
There is a dead iguana in the bike lane. There is the flat shape of an opossum in the bike lane, more than a shadow. There is someone’s lost wristwatch in the bike lane. There is an alive, fist-sized crab scuttling sideways in the bike lane. It’s Florida, and there are lizards everywhere.
There’s a jogger with lizard skin on the sidewalk. I have a youthful pompousness about my use of sunblock. The straps of my turquoise helmet cover me. Deepening wrinkles encircle my eyes. I’m not much older than my students, but it will not always be this way.
There is a six-foot palm frond in the bike lane. There is a pool of sewage water in the bike lane; a regular occurrence due to flooding. When the bike lane dead-ends into a forest and a wider footpath negates the threat of cars, I count six leashless dogs, four leashless owners. I hear slash pines covering the sun. The trees are naming all their names, a kind of lacy roll call. Three doves fly off when I fly past.
Commuters learn where the potholes are, where the dumped kittens were, where the canines tend to leave their shit, where gravel becomes grass, the place on the rocks of the glass bottle, home to a photo. A kind of pre-Atlantis, Miami rises above the mist.
Off Biscayne Bay, in the nature preserve, on campus, cops drive their cars. There are supposed to be no cars, no cops here. Their assignment? To watch our presence.
To say I have an assignment is to speak about learning in passive voice. Who gave you the assignment? Why did you take it?
There are squirrels on the path, and I slow down. A pair of elderly partners faces me, and I slow down. Calling, naming, bells, a vast sweep, a chirp, the ring of a hawk in the openness complete.
I like having a conversation. I like doing independent work and reconvening. I like synergy.
Can I learn to like everything about teaching? Can I reconcile my feelings about authority? Can I teach a subject I don’t entirely believe in? Can I navigate collegiality? Do I want to be in school in perpetuity? I know I want to learn. What is the question in question?
The bike racks seem to be utterly full or utterly empty. When I became a teacher, learning became more complicated. My anonymous bike on the anonymous rack. The sentence I created. The footpath I commuted.
The cops sometimes play war games in the nature preserve. The cops sometimes play war games on campus. The teachers sometimes write letters professing their disapproval. Most people walk around afraid of guns. The people with guns think they’re protecting someone.
My caricature: an activist teacher who commutes by bicycle. Draw me something with markers I can’t lose. I want to be an activist commuter, an activist teacher. Where do I find the word that commutes across the two, the go-between, the elision?
When I lose the dimension of myself that notices the hawk; when I lose my flexible naming, calling, roll call; when I lose the freedom to say fuck that; when I lose my membership in the union, disillusion; when I lose my life; when I forget that the city we’ve built is still the forest; when I’m no longer willing to (Write it!) like disaster, I will no longer be a teacher.
Freesia McKee is author of the chapbook How Distant the City (Headmistress Press, 2018). Her words have appeared in Flyway, Bone Bouquet, So to Speak, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Virga, Painted Bride Quarterly, CALYX, About Place Journal, South Dakota Review, New Mexico Review, and the Ms. Magazine Blog. Freesia is a staff book reviewer for South Florida Poetry Journal. Her reviews have also appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Pleiades Book Review, Gulf Stream, and The Drunken Odyssey. Freesia was the winner of CutBank Literary Journal’s 2018 Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry, chosen by Sarah Vap. Find her online at freesiamckee.com or on Twitter at @freesiamckee.