AND ALSO I RAN
I wheedled a ten-minute visit from the night
nurse. This was Friday, the evening after
my best friend hurtled through a windshield
at 70 mph, the day before I drove
to a numbing family reunion for blue-hair aunts.
He had a machine to count his breaths,
a tube to collect his pee, and a pair of legs
that would never again shuffle or glide through this life.
Every six hours his Stryker bed flipped him
like a flapjack, stomach down for now,
with a cutout for his face, so I sprawled
on the floor. Days before, we had lain on grass,
close as sleeping bags, counting stars
and girlfriends we didn’t have. Tonight, more
of the same bull, and less. His chin and my dirty
shoes trading gossip, the eighty-seven stitches
on his back playing hard to get, and the moon
outside skinny dipping in the fountain.
I was fifteen plus four months, and my friend
was fifteen plus blood all over the Ford
Bronco, even on the road, even on trees,
he said, promise me that you’ll definitely check
out the crash site. And I said no, not
one part of me wants to see blood on trees.
Before leaving, I counted stitches on my friend’s
bad shoulder, then touched his good one,
warmish like when you put your arm around
a girl at a matinee. And the hum of machines
was a prayer to healing, and the dirty
tiles were a prayer to grit, and the intern
was a ten-fingered prayer to vitals and charts.
And my friend saying
Hey, man, later, was amen.
Outside, the sprinklers sputtered and hissed
and did a silvery dance with the grass, the stars
tried to go all the way with sleeping cars,
and the dark said, What is this, amateur hour?
I broke into a run then, sliding through chain
link to an endless empty parking lot. With so many
overhead lights I had three shadows at once,
like three wavery souls. When I ran, they moved,
one pinning me to pavement, one sliding
off like oily water, one being born up ahead.
What did I care? When I closed my eyes
they went away. Just a buzzing breeze
and these slabs called legs doing their work.
They didn’t want to run. My lungs pushed
them, my slippery beating heart, and my friend’s
catheter leaking amber bubbles into room 514.
Who needed a soul, or the disappearing shadow
of a soul? Breath was enough, and hurrying
blood, provided it stayed inside. Nine-thirty
at night, the day after and the day before.
A clean, brisk, heavy, terrifying, innocent
Friday in June. I ran and ran and also I ran.
from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
Lance Larsen: “In a poem over twenty years old, I describe floating in a swimming pool late at night: ‘I kept the lights off to blur my edges.’ In childhood, the demarcation between self and world often felt smudgy, as if I was on the verge of dissolving into something beautiful or terrifying. It was never entirely clear which. How to center yourself on this darkly turning planet? When I try to rewind the clock via poetry, that strange opaqueness, that lovely permeability often returns. And mystery, once again, is everywhere.”