What I Remember About Winning the Race

Although I said to myself I wanted nothing more
than to break the tape,
to be the first one over the line
in the ninety-degree heat of Castroville,
Artichoke Capital of the World,
in fact, a runner doesn’t break the tape at all.
It wasn’t even a tape.
It may have been a length of string
the two who were given the job
at the last minute saying,
“I thought you had it!”
“You said you did.”
“The gun’s gone off…we better think of something.”

And so it was a chalk line someone had in a bag
hurriedly stretched,
not broken but pushed through,
pulled away from their hands, one end dropped,
the string gathered, balled up,
stuffed into a knapsack at the end of the day.

Although I said I wanted nothing more
than to come in first,
the light popping in John’s eyes,
my winner’s knock-kneed unmuscled stagger,
I did nothing more than hurt and retch,
stretched on the cold tile of the men’s room floor,
breathing unusual breaths,
my breath coming in short gasps
and no teammate
no concerned official knocking at the door
(there was another race I’m sure) —
alone in the men’s room
my hands gripping the sink,
puking over my knuckles:
the touch and temperature of victory.