Laura Madeline Wiseman’s What a Bicycle Can Carry shows the beauty that can be made by attending to what’s been disregarded, overlooked, and cast off. Though the structure of the book – a trek across America by bicycle, with sections giving the names of states and poems defined by the day of the trip and the miles covered – may seem straightforward, the book probes a deeper interior journey. One poem, which finds the cyclist-speaker perched briefly at a pull-in in Colorado, trying to catch her breath in the thin mountain air, leaps from the specifics of the journey to bigger questions about identity, asking “Aren’t most things like this – lovely / climbs among others with better kit, wheels/ bodies, class, birth, that privilege of air.” This book examines, with Wiseman’s keen eye for detail and precise turns of phrase, both the tiny particulars of the journey – the bicycle toolkit, discarded scrunchies and other roadside detritus, the rest stops which alternate between luxurious and horrifying – and the broad cultural issues of who belongs in this land and how we occupy it. In a moment when our nation feels divided and strange, Wiseman’s authoritative, sensitive guide provides a bicycle-eye view of a beautiful, complicated country.
—Nancy Reddy, author of Acadiana