Paul Short Invitational: Bethlehem, PA

It was a cross-country race in October,
too warm and humid, a few runners collapsed
on the side of the course like shot horses,
bleeding and humble, feeling the little death
rolling around their guts, as the rest of us charged
past like a herd of stallions, dream-like, holding on,
holding to each other without touching,
the heat packed in our throats, our feet
dragging sprays of dirt across the land,
between corn fields and rolling hills
lifting and dropping us like waves in the ocean.

In the sixth kilometer a stranger sidled up beside me
our strides finding a common rhythm,
and we ran as a pair, no longer strangers,
the grunt and gasp for air our only utterance,
galloping into the relief of shaded woods,
into the shadows cut out in front of us, into time
as time shaped itself around us and inside us,
and the mind gave way to the unexpected voice of the body,
the animal within us learning to speak without speaking —
and then he was gone.

It was later that day, driving home, when I realized
it must be this way that animals whisper to each other,
every drove and pack, flock and yoke,
ambling across the lush earth,
chasing the last light of the sun,
driven by a hunger grown horrible inside,
whispering without the debilitating maelstrom of words,
without past or future,
only sweat and flesh, the heart beating wildly,
alive and eternal.


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