My undergraduate mentor shared this wonderful poem with me, and I wanted to pass it along.
Our eyes were towards the distant finish line
beyond the ranks of watchers who were blind
to anything except the runners keeping
up their pace, a pace that Heartbreak Hill
had tested: limbs that slowed as if in sleeping,
as stiffened legs could only run in place,
as pain arose from knee to hip to spine,
as heart and lungs were urged beyond an edge.
Just finishing would be a lasting prize.
At the start this artery was clogged
with numbered athletes, some who spit or coughed,
stretched or crossed themselves, or did a dance
in place, a hop for Hopkington, or braced
to start a sprint. They looked as in a trance,
orchestrated into strides or shuffle,
catching up or falling back, a glance
to either side that let the ghostly landscape
pass, and feel the roadway, smooth and roughed.
A web of sounds were heard and left behind,
and cheers for those that some had come to see,
or strangers, and a few who left for home.
The stampede thinned, and unobstructed spots
were opened wide. The mind was left to roam
as footsteps pulverized the stirring dust
that on some other day would drift like foam,
untouched and lost upon the shifting air.
Ahead the finish lured invisibly.
The silent watchers quickly guessed at how
their new, invented voice, along a row,
indistinct and frail, could find the room
to rise in cheers, while from a thousand hands
cups and juicy bits like food from home
were offered, eaten, held, a sacrament
creating a connected body, poem
of victory, to share a deathless crown
of fame that does not wilt upon the brow.
At the end the bannered portal narrowed,
like ancient gates where waiting souls are carried
on distant journeys when our race is done,
explosions shook the ground and found the tender
flesh, and scattered wasted blood and bone.
Terror. Then a force it could not touch —
as dozens ran to help, and life had won,
as strong as death, and love more infinite
than harm, a love to which creation runs.