“Strangers” by Laszlo Slomovits

Laszlo Slomovits


A man is running hard
to catch the bus that just left.

It’s picking up speed but he
pulls even and raps on its side,

and a woman by the window
yells to the driver, who stops

and opens the accordion door.
But the man does not get on—

he points back to an old woman
who has not run a step

in a very long time
shuffling towards the bus.

Nor does he leave until he’s
helped her up both steps

then walks back slowly
still breathing hard

toward us who are
waiting for a different bus.

What can a group of strangers
do at a time like this?

A time in its own tiny way like
when Bob Hayes roared by them all

to bring the relay home,
or when Billy Mills devoured

the last 50 of the 10,000 meters
or when Joan Benoit came striding

into the stadium alone—and all of us
strangers stood up and cheered.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018
Tribute to Athlete Poets


Laszlo Slomovits: “One of my father’s heroes was Jesse Owens. Perhaps an unusual hero for an Orthodox Jew in 1930s rural Hungary, but you see, in a small way, my father was a ‘chariot of fire’ (to reference the famous movie of two other Olympic sprinters). Though he was a devout and religious man, in his youth my father loved to run and was a pretty good sprinter—not world class, but pretty good. So that was one reason. The other didn’t fully enter my father’s life until a number of years after Jesse’s amazing exploits at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. My father lost his wife, three children, both parents, three sisters, his only brother, and numerous more distant relatives and friends during the Holocaust. Jesse’s victory in the ‘Nazi Olympics’ symbolically took on heroic proportions. I grew up hearing legendary stories of Jesse Owens, and about my father having been a sprinter—which made me want to be one also. And I too was pretty good; definitely not world class, but good enough to be one of the tri-captains of the track team in my senior year at the University of Rochester. Much more importantly, I loved to run. While in college, I moved up from sprints to middle-distance racing and longer distance training, and found that I got my best ideas for writing poetry, song lyrics, and music while out on a long slow run, especially in nature. Now, nearing my seventh decade, I mostly go for walks and slow jogs, but still find inspiration and insight during those times, moving in those ways.” (web)

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