Feb. 20, 2003

The Loneliness of the 100-Meter Dash Man

by David Wagoner

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Poem: "The Loneliness of the 100-Meter Dash Man," by David Wagoner from The House of Song (University of Illinois Press).

The Loneliness of the 100-Meter Dash Man

Crouching, he puts the stiffened tips of his fingers
      Down on the starting line and braces
          The cleats under his toes
Against the springboards
      Of starting-blocks and begins
          Listening hard
To the Ready, the Get Set,
      And the first tremor
          From his eardrums through both hammers and anvils
To the ganglions of his conglomerate
      Skeleton and its collateral
          Balancing rods and pinions for the explosion
Of their propellants blurring him into motion,
      The clenched fists becoming fins, everything
          Joining now to carry the skull and torso
Directly forward to where he wants to go
      (Which is obvious) as quickly and evenly
          As is humanly possible, and almost instantly
He's bowing to the horizontal tape
      Which breaks and falls. It was there
          All along, the limit of every gesture
He wanted to make, and it's gone, flying
      Aside as if it might as well be
          Lying on the ground, rumpled
And disconnected, marking no particular place,
      Trash to be wadded and stuffed
          Out of sight later, and the dash man
Has slowed to a loose-limbed dance,
      To a shaky aimlessness, his face
          No longer strained into ripples
Like the leading edge of a wing in a wind
      Of his own creation. To have it all
          Be over so suddenly, so abruptly,
So completely, when he had so much more
      In him to offer-he has hardly
          Anything to remember. His body is still wanting
To go on, his mind still racing. What can he be
      Now between the time
          He discovers he's first or second
Or third or out of the running
      And the next time he decides whether he'll fall
          To his knees again on cinders
And try once more or whether he'll take a seat
      With the rest somewhere alone and watch others
          Dashing from start to finish?

It's the birthday of photographer Ansel Adams, was born in San Francisco, California (1902). He was famous for his black and white photographs of Yosemite National Park. He was also a passionate environmentalist. To Ansel Adams, a person was either in favor of preserving the environment, or against it; there was no middle ground.

It's the birthday of playwright and producer Russel Crouse, born in Findlay, Ohio in 1893. He was the partner of Howard Lindsay. Lindsay and Crouse wrote the librettos for many musicals over thirty years, starting with Anything Goes for Cole Porter in 1934.

It's the birthday of the film director Robert Altman, born in Kansas City (1925). In 1957 he co-produced The James Dean Story, which did poorly in the box offices, but won the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who got Altman's foot in the door in the television world. His breakthrough movie was M.A.S.H (1970), followed by Nashville (1975) and, most recently, Gosford Park (2002). Altman said about Hollywood, "This big store, they sell shoes, and I make gloves."

It's the birthday of Japanese novelist Shiga Naoya, born in Sendai, Japan, in 1883. Shiga's masterpiece was an epic novel titled A Dark Night Passing (1937), which chronicles the life and death of a common Japanese man. It took Shiga sixteen years, between 1921 and 1937, to write the 400-plus page book.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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