“Running at Stillwater” by Cynthia Zhang

Cynthia Zhang (age 14)


Running the unforgiving woods and puddles        at Stillwater        I peer up through bare        branches glimpsing the sky        so maybe the miles will        feel shorter        cold water shocks me
splattering my knees I come back a red uniform too        tired to speak        we run on        and        cresting the hill        all I can hear is our sharp breaths        not enough for greedy lungs
one mile says Iren and the        world blurs and refocuses my legs will fail me soon        is all the mind        can think        but the burn continues        hearing crunchy leaves        scattered rocks or
roots we jump        stumble over mud patches        only two of us in twisting forest and trail        mocking my legs        heavy as lead        shoes waterlogged and squelching        I cannot give
up        our gasps        thoughts scatter        a flock of sparrows        feet slap pavement shins cry        like never before but there’s no time        first we race against        others but now the brain
turns on        itself and no matter        how hard fists        teeth clench I want        to laugh        painfully        why did I start        legs carry me        past people        bleachers        around the fence
slightly askew I cannot        but I must        and finally slow        one foot in front        don’t throw up        please no more        Let’s go Cynthia        someone in the distance
the key turns        calves and lungs scream        cruising along        on nothing just a cheer        glaring        white stripes        red        the track the final        stretch Iren is        forty
meters        thirty        twenty meters        finish strong        the engine        screams        too fast we’re        sprinting too        fast        those last seconds        oh        the        sweet
temptation        but no        my elbows        pumping        hardest in my        life and        it was        then        I decide        never        to be        a quitter        line        crossed        slow
burned        Bend over        mind        folds        limp        by vision’s edge        excited red        uniforms say        you’re done        I wonder        dimly        why they smile
you did it        they say

from 2022 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Cynthia Zhang: “I always loved writing stories, ever since I was a tiny kid, and wrote a very long book with my friend, who lived all the way across the world. I got interested in poetry when I was in eighth grade, and I enjoy it because it describes and relieves very personal feelings. Often times I get bored (which was especially the case during quarantine), and poetry gives me something to direct my concentration at. Also, other famous poets provide great inspiration to me, such as Nazim Hikmet, William Carlos Williams, James Wright, and Robert Frost.”

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