“Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.” — Christopher McDougall, Born to Run
From evolutionary biology and breathing mechanics to Running Man theory and persistence hunting, Chapter 28 of McDougall’s book was both the chapter that brought my reading to a screeching halt and the chapter that left me thinking long after my eyes left the pages. Somehow, I knew that I must not only get through the chapter but also attempt to understand the theories before moving on in the story. So I did.
I took this chapter of the book on in much the same way as a hunter tracks a bear — with a cautious and mindful persistence. I read the dirt, analyzed the droppings, and speculated about the underlying messages. I it kept up for days until I could feel myself becoming tired and week — and I pushed on. When I could see the end was near for my bear of a chapter, I pushed harder and finished him off. And that was when I saw things in a whole new light…
by Galway Kinnell
one of my favorite poems
In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.
And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.
And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and go on running.
On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
perhaps the first taint of me as he
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.
Until one day I totter and fall —
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.
I awaken I think. Marshlights
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the rest of my days I spend
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood,
that poetry, by which I lived?
from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).
…and the story continues. The great race will soon be upon us.
Kurt in Boston says
That poem is immediately among my favorites now! Thank you so much for sharing it.