Along the Rio Tejo

by Gary Kaiser

He came riding toward me
amplified music for entertainment
eliminating the need for a bell
to remind me I shouldn’t linger in the bike path
which I felt was too subtly marked
for the occasional tourist strolling in subdued awe
of unfamiliar yet unremarkable surroundings.
Slouched forward, his right hand held a mobile phone
which probably showed a map tracking his progress
or maybe a text message from someone important. 

I was reminded of stories my father told me
biking through the rubble of post-war Normandy
a cold muddy trek from Le Havre to Cité Montgeon
past broken facades holding shattered dreams
to the chapel where he’d serve refugees
offering food and faith, reassured that even there,
in everything, God is at work.
Or earlier, riding across the Saskatchewan prairies 
one glorious autumn day
singing a hymn at the top of his lungs
with no one to hear him
thanking God for the Earth so bright.
I can see him riding, arms outstretched
in darkness and in light
looking up to embrace the heavens
like Meg Ryan in City of Angels
but without closing his eyes.

What if my father had kept riding west
or had stayed in Normandy
instead of returning to southern Ontario
to marry the young woman who would become
beloved mother to me and my three siblings
instead, meeting a farmer’s daughter
or finding his calling among the Cree?
I certainly wouldn’t be here in Lisbon
scurrying out of the way of bikes
or of anything else, for that matter
such divine coincidences that result
- among a few other things -
in a statistical improbability like me
grateful always to be the son of someone
who looks up to beauty and to light.

On any given day, Gary Kaiser might be an amateur chef, teacher, translator, traveler, photographer, friend, father, or poet. Encouraged by a writer/minister/publisher/historian/cartographer father, he was born in Ontario, grew up in the New York City area, and now lives in San Francisco.

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