Open Thread and The Sprinter's Running Shoes
by Chris Bowers, Sat Aug 14, 2004 at 02:23:06 PM EDT
Personally, I am loving the Olympics, and I have placed an Olympic related poll on the main page. When I was younger, I was a pretty good sprinter, and dreamed of one day participating myself. However, no matter how hard you work at sprinting, in the end you can't put in what God left out. However, later on I did write several poems about that time in my life, and I have included one "The Sprinter's Running Shoes," in the extended section. Enjoy.
For Jason Pattit
May all of creation, all of the heavens and the earth, all of the living and the dead, take heed of the sprinter's running shoes, may those who take heed sing joyous songs of praise, cantos and psalms reverberating through the air, may those who take heed leap and dance before the stars, join hands, and together measure movement with their breath, may those who take heed fall to their knees in a prayer of gratitude, countless praying in thousands in cities and forests across the continent, may those who take heed be blessed so that the shoes may be blessed in turn, blessed as a sign of goodness, a sign of presence, a sign of peace, a sign of joy, blessed with a countenance that protects them from harm, blessed with a light that endows them with beauty, bless them with a grace that imbues them with speed, a speed that fills the laces, blackened, caked in dirt, covered in dust, cut short and tied twice so that I cannot fall, a speed that fills the heels, crinkled and covered by tape, quickly changing their shape to the shape of my feet, a speed that fills the soles, worn smooth by years of training, space by blue ink notes left to me by my friends, a speed that fills the whole shoe and lifts me off the track, lifts me as my arms and legs fill with sugar and with blood in the last fifty meters of a race, a race of one hundred, two hundred or four hundred meters on a track of rubber and paint or cinders and chalk, a track spreading gravel over my calf, first spattering the hair on my legs and the bends of my knees as I straighten my body coming off a turn moving so as to bring a grace to my loneliness, the flowing space of my solitude filling the smallness of my world with beauty, a world that, in its smallness, affects the infinity of the world around it, a world that has borne witness to my speed, a speed that is blessed and that will bless me in turn, bless me as I come quick and low out of starting blocks, almost stumbling, lunging forward into the air, bless me as I hold my form on the back straight, seconds and strides before all oxygen leaves my body, bless me as I lean and lean look to my side the entire race, my muscles loosening and starting to fail as I reach the finish line, my head pulsing and unable to think as I wait for my time at the end of a race, gasping, bent-over and ecstatic as I have so often waited for my time after races on tracks in meets at colleges and high schools throughout Upstate New York in cities and boroughs named Hamilton and Canandaigua, Binghamton and Chenango Bridge in the Appellation Plateau, Lake Placid, in the green hills of the Adirondacks, the oldest mountain range in the world, where my family twice vacationed when I was young, site of the first time my father ever took me fishing, Baldwinsville, north of Syracuse, flat and empty, its roads a drag strip for races to cross-country practice with both me and my training partner, Jason Pattit, crammed into the back seat of Lee Mobley's Volkswagen, its power blue frame shaking as the speedometer surpassed eighty-five somewhere on 690 West as we drove toward Van Buren Park or Beaver Lake, the central New York autumn passing us in a blur of yellow, orange and red and the same gray sky, yearlong gift of the Great Lakes, covering the entire region and bringing the same warm showers everywhere throughout April, May and June, showers bringing rain to press my jersey against my skin, the slight outline of my chest revealed in full, showers bringing rain to fall over the kaleidoscope of school uniforms at a track meet where all colors cover the track, flow over the infield and the bleachers in pools of blue and yellow, of gray and red and brown
where teams set up camps in piles and in circles of raincoats, duffel bags, sweatpants and radios, in groups of runners listening to walkmans, telling jokes, eating rice cakes, eating candy bars, playing cards and trying not to think about running until a few minutes before the race the way I stared at patterns in the tiled floor of the waiting room during my father's surgery, silent and looking down, my running shoes mixing together with the host of shapes on the floor, elaborate pyramids, smaller squares moving into larger squares, dark rectangles rotating at all angles in my mind the way my father's cancer built upon itself, cells reproducing toward infinity near his colon even as my mother sat next to me in the waiting room, her legs crossed, one hand pressed against her face and almost covering her mouth and the occasional sob escaping her body sounding like the call of a dying bird in the suburban trees next to the track and the football field at Liverpool High School where, as a sophomore, I ran the best race of my life in the league championship meet, making the final in the one hundred meter dash, lowering my personal best by four tenths of a second and beating Aaron Davis, the eventual champion, to the first step out of the blocks and being so stunned I was in front that I slowed long enough for him to pass me in a rush of short quick breaths and warm spring air serving as the genesis of a story I would tell Jason for years afterward, at first while running during cross-country practice in the summer and fall, sweat falling through the shortness of out hair and beading over our eyebrows and into our eyes, a late summer breeze pressing the dirt in our drying sweat against our skin, then later when we would run in the winter, the track uncleared and unusable because of snow so instead running our repetitions on a nearby footpath, sliding ten to twenty yards after each interval on the cleared ice like children at a bus stop and causing the red and purple blisters on the underside of toes to burst, silently spreading blood over the inside of my shoes just as Jason had silently spread blood over the top of his shoes in a bathroom stall in the boy's locker room after practice, only surviving because he had, unknowingly, cut the wrong side of his wrist open and sat there wondering why more blood had not come out until, after a few minutes, he left the stall, threw the razor away, cleaned himself up and walked home only telling me the story years later as we were running on an early summer afternoon, sweat and heat not yet upon us, mosquitoes still biding their time before nightfall, only a few more words to be exchanged and then silence, only the birds and then silence as we ran through Long Branch Park on an early summer afternoon, sprinting the hills both up and down, jogging a sprinter's jog in the open spaces, waiting for the remainder of oxygen to escape our bodies and then to live off sugar and blood, our bodies moving quickly and silently through the paths of the forest, pine needles muffling the sound of our steps as we moved through the forest both perfect and unnoticed and as, thousands of miles away, the waves of an unseen ocean crashed silently over thousands of slowly eroding shores.