AGAINST TRAVEL BAGS WITH WHEELS
Let me bring with me
only what I can sling
over my shoulder
or lug in one hand.
Let people say, “Why is that old man
carrying his bag like that? Is he
simple-minded? Too poor or too cheap
to buy a bag with wheels?”
And let my belongings not skim
the walkways and ramps but bump
against my hip, reassuringly intimate,
whispering with the sound of cloth
rubbing on cloth about the lesson
of gravity, how the earth loves us,
and that without wheels my two legs
are enough, the rolling bag so close a cousin
to wheelchairs and rolling walkers
as to scare me into a scarcity
of carried items, only what’s necessary
for the journey, the extras jettisoned,
for this bag is my brother, the shoulder strap
his arm around my neck, the two of us
comrades for the road, this bag
my camerado, this bag I name Walt.
Author’s Comment: Once, when I was discarding from my life some object, practice, or person, my daughter said, “Dad, you’re having another minimalist living frenzy.” So the poem reflects a consistent tendency of mine. No extra baggage. It also reflects a consistent interest in Walt Whitman, about whom I’ve written and published enough poems to fill a book, for which I’m currently seeking a publisher. I do think it’ll be a sad day if I’m ever reduced–because of diminishing strength, not a surfeit of stuff–to needing a bag with wheels.
Bio: Philip Dacey is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Mosquito Operas: New and Selected Short Poems (Rain Mountain Press, 2010) and Vertebrae Rosaries: 50 Sonnets (Red Dragonfly Press, 2009), as well as entire collections about Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Eakins, and New York City. His awards include three Pushcart Prizes, a Fulbright to Yugoslavia, a Woodrow Wilson to Stanford, and two from the NEA. With David Jauss, he co-edited Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms (Harper & Row, 1986).
What an outstandingly good poem. I will read it over and over again.
I feel the same way towards those bags with wheels but don’t know why. In my case I don’t think it has anything to do with age or machismo exactly. It is, perhaps, more like the romantic notion suggested in the last stanza, or perhaps just a reaction to the noise of those damned wheels. I’m sure my neck would hurt less if I went away from the satchel, but it just seems wrong — as you’ve suggested, somehow like abandoning an old friend.
What a beautiful prayer in its simplicity, flowing from 3rd to last stanza with unusual grace in a one sentence breath.
My travel bag has been sweat-stained, scatter-shot with vomit on a Mexican bus, used as a pillow and meditatively caressed in the 110 degree heat of a Cambodian afternoon. My roller bag goes with me to visit my mother. My travel bag brings me along to meet the world. Thank you for the memories.