Losing the 440-Yard Dash

Afaa Michael Weaver - 1951-

If he hits the curve before you do, all is lost
is all I remember when the coach yelled out
to start, to kick it down the short straightaway

into the curve, the curve a devil’s handiwork,
with Worsenski ahead of me, two hundred sixty
pounds, one hundred pounds more than me,

and all I could see were the Converse soles
of a boy I dusted in my dreams on the bus
out here to make the track team, letters

for my sweater, girls going goo-goo over me,
coaches from big-league schools with papers
to say I was headed for glory, my unkempt

disappointment in me now sealed by winged
feet beating me in the curve, Worsenski as big
as the USS Enterprise sliding through Pacific

waters, parting the air in front of him that
sucked back behind just to hold me in my grip
of deep shame until I wished I were not there.

I wanted more than being human, a warrior
of field and track would be bursting out now
ripping open my chest with masculinity

to make Jesse Owens proud or jealous,
or inspired or something other than me
the pulling-up caboose slower than mud

running like an old man really walking,
all the most valuable parts of me inside
my brain in wishes, in dreams, in things

not yet born into the world, in calculations
of beauty, in yearning for love, for the word
of love, for some adoration from Wanda,

the most beautiful girl in the whole block,
black like me and wondering just what
life had to give those of us who can fly.

More by Afaa Michael Weaver

My Father's Geography

I was parading the Côte d'Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America--the Kennedys.

On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.

At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
"You almost home boy.  Go on cross that sea!"