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A Poem for Pantani

Uploaded by mcalamelli to Flickr

You will read this after, so I want you to know I was happiest on the bike.
For all of my memory I felt the most at home
With my feet on the pedals and the world moving around me.
The perfume of grease,
mentholated embrocation
and the heat in my legs.

We saw the movie in the small cinema in Cesenatico,
Disney’s little elephant who could fly.
I flew away on my bike that afternoon,
A boy’s eyes wet with tears of humiliation.
The harder I pedaled,
The higher I flew,

I learned to use my skills,
To fly above my hurt,
You called me hero, but I heard only taunts.
Pedal harder.
You called me campione.
Pedal harder.
You called me cheater.
Pedal harder.

I’m sorry, but I could not pedal every hour of every day.
I could not keep those thoughts
From my sleep.
So I filled my hours with tricks to stop the endless chatter of
God and family. Sin and redemption. My face in the mirror.
My imperfections magnified.
Pedal harder.

I held the biggest prize above my head
My heart was full of joy and peace.
My mother and father wept at my achievement.
But by the next dawn I was filled again with shame.
Pedal harder.
And when the next prize was taken
Just hours from my grasp
All was black inside
And I could only recoil from the light.
They wanted to punish me,
But I was already in prison.

I fought back, of course.
To be my own superhero,
A Pirate, a criminal beloved for his audacity.
Accepted as flawed. Accepted.
But I could not accept myself.
I cut away at my face,
but I could not slice into my disfigured soul.

Do not think it was all for nothing.
There is so much that I cherish.
Thank you, my dear friends,
For your hands reaching out for my slippery fingers.
I did see your signs on the climbs,
My name in fresh paint that clung to my tires.
I appreciated your hands on the small of my back,
The cool water spilled down my neck.
A million roadside kindnesses over the years,
Grazie. Grazie. Goodbye.

It is not so bad to be an Elephantino.
I just wanted to be a boy.

Previously published in Dirt Rag magazine.