One of my dearest friends, a man I greatly admire, sent me this poem years ago as a way of showing his support when I first started running. DM is a poet himself, as well as a critic and a professor by vocation. He did not write this poem, but he studied under the man who did. Whenever I read these lines, I am moved by the layers of meaning, which are stitched through with the warm thought of who gave me the poem. I keep it taped above my computer at home, so I read it often. DM is not a runner; he claims he is allergic to exercise of any sort, so I was doubly touched by his acknowledgement of my passion for quick bipedal movement. I like to think of “Homage to the Runner” as a silent nod of understanding between us, because it is as much about his passion (poetry) as it is mine.
Homage to the Runner
By Marvin Bell
The form of this “sport” is pain,
riding up into it, he hurts to win.
These are the moments when death is really
possible, when a man can fit into
his enlarged heart all that is known
or was or shall be pumping fulfills.
The love of form is a black occasion
through which some light must show
in a hundred years of commitment.
By the time the body aches to end it,
the poem begins, at first in darkness,
surrounded by counterfits of leisure.
Run away. Leave them to ease.
What does it matter if you wind up alone?
There is no finish; you can stop for no one.
When your wife cries, you pass a kiss.
When your sons worry, you flash a smile.
When your women wave, you ignore them.