Poem of the Month: Learning to ride, by Keith Westwater

I attended the very successful launch of Keith Westwater’s new book No One Home at Unity Books Wellington last Thursday night. No One Home is described on the front cover as “a boyhood memoir in letters and poems”, and lest that and the front cover image appear to paint a picture of an idyllic youth, that’s far from the case.

I’m just beginning to dip into this fascinating mixture of memoir, record of Army life and poetry collection, but here is one poem that caught my eye right away. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this collection, and then reviewing it!

Learning to ride

Not long after my complaints
about the long walk to school

how everyone had one
so why couldn’t I

you came home one night
with a two-wheeler bike –

a Monarch (boy’s, second-hand)
front handbrake, rear pedal –

no bell, chain-guard or gears.
You bought it, no doubt

off a ‘for sale’ ad in the local rag
painted it fire-engine red

showed me how to use the pump
oil the chain, crank and hubs

told me to level the pedals
before I stood on one

straddled the cross bar
sat on the black saddle seat


while you palmed my back
steadied the handle bars

said to push with my feet –
one then the other – coaxed me


to steer straight, keep upright
as we practised setting off.

When I came a cropper
skinned my arms or knees

you painted them orange
set me up for another go

until I was able to wobble solo
up and down life’s street.

If only that were so.

Credit: “Learning to ride” by Keith Westwater is reproduced by permission of the author and the publisher, Mākaro Press, from Keith’s new book No One Home (Mākaro Press, 2018).
Tim says: Very like my own experiences of learning to ride a bike (in my case, in Otatara, south of Invercargill) – until the brutal end.

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