The Runners by Eric Nelson

The Runners

I’m not a runner but I love to watch them—
their mute glide, raindrop-soft footfalls, arms
rhythmic as wings. And how they bring
the city to a stop with their K’s—the 3’s, 5’s, and 10’s,
the Fun Run, the Jingle Bell, the Firecracker—
everybody wearing red white and blue—
streets blocked, blue police lights for once
not sparking fear, volunteers at tables checking names,
handing out numbers, synchronizing watches.

Young moms in full stride push strollers cargoed
with wide-eyed babies. Dads run beside kids
giving advice, watching for fatigue, ready to swoop
them up and keep running. The old, papery but fit,
move wisely, unperturbed as turtles. The serious
athletes, straight-faced, burst quickly to the front,
their gaze more inward than out, personal best
on their minds. Behind them, the big bunch paces itself,
amorphous as a bulge squeezing through a snake’s length.

Then, for a while, it seems over, the end
come and gone before you know it. Finally, the stragglers
appear, some talking, some alone, limping, likely
to be picked off by cheetahs—those beautiful runners—
if this were the Serengeti. But this is America, so we cheer
for their never-say-die gumption, knowing that some day
the last shall be first. But not today….

The crowd drifts away. Tables get folded and loaded
onto trucks. The police cut their blue lights, give
their sirens a half-whoop, and return to circling the city
returning to itself—loud, clumsy, in a hurry.

by Eric Nelson

Editor’s Note: This poem writes of optimism and community, while also being fully aware that reality often is anything but.

3 thoughts on “The Runners by Eric Nelson

  1. Writing poetry now seems to fill a hole in my life the way that running used to, but I’ve competed in a lot of races, mostly through towns, and you’ve captured it poetically and knowingly. I particularly liked the little diversion about cheetahs. You are more than competitive with his poem, age groups notwithstanding.


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