Running Along the Summer’s Crooked Spine


Mike Baker,


A runner stands on the road’s skinny ledge waiting for the clock, hands on hips, slouched and relaxed. A runner steps from toe to toe, prancing. Another runner tightens – turning all that was soft into warped tight spring formed to hurl him off the line.

It is already too hot to race but there is no going back. There is no walking away. The sun is up. The pack hums and sweats together, the very act of creation, 100 single parts of one organism.
They all breathe in. Their eyes flutter a moment with the certainty of knowing what comes next. The gun sounds like thunder in the distance and they are awake, flush and moving through the thick wet air. They cannot catch their breath.

The pack pulls apart, stretched thin with invisible filaments, the slimmest link being that they call themselves runners. The fast and the desperate pull ahead, the weak but courageous pull against futility. Everyone is straining.

The first mile is impossible. Only the foolish are blind to this fact. They will either crumble or luck will carry them. Everyone will pay for their courage. Everyone is suffering and hoping to catch their breath. Everyone clings to the unseen second mile.

They have all succumbed to hope. The second mile is worse than the first mile. It is their minds, deprived of oxygen, they have forgotten to care. They are headlong toward perdition. They are running for reasons that would make no sense in the light of day, saying prayers not even in a human tongue.

The third miles comes and they are veterans now who see beyond the carnage, their bodies thrown forward, their minds still and patiently counting out their ammunition, eyes almost closed, ready for the final push up and over into certain failure borne of certain hope.

Hope that damn chameleon – hiding all along – safe in the fist, if we but let go and watch it run away, not to abandon but to lead us to the end. The world coming apart is pulling back together again.

Runners are born above the flux, relentlessly holding it off until the last final failure overcomes us. We find ourselves only when we have stepped onto dangerous ground, better off kicking back dirt, scrambling away from the Roman hounds.

Let them chew the road’s grit and spittle before they catch our heels, the last flailing moment 100 meters from the line – when pushing beyond control, unable to hold form, we are desperate beyond reason to squeeze just one more second off the clock.

And then joy or not joy, hauling in all the air God made, our legs defeated, and our hearts defeated. We must breathe, hands on knees – we look up and see the sky. The slightest breeze is proof we are not alone. The world slowly wraps itself around us again.
The first and last runners come together. The pack forms again on the other side of the clock. The first and last runners are the same runner again. They beat the same stretch of road, the same cruel sun fought, win or lost, in vain.