Poem by Mark Wisniewski
Photo by Jill Burhans

 
 
 
Breakaway

we ran up & down those hardwood courts
if we stopped we were told
we were weak we needed to work
we needed
to outrun teams to win
sometimes the fast sat watching the slow
lose but either way we'd
all again
practice
gasping
willing our legs
past our senses
of balance we had to admit progress we could outsprint
most we could kill pampered
teams we felt joined by common sacrifice as we grew
in the eyes of our cheerleaders

years of running helped
us win games other than hoop
there was something to all those bursts
in our pasts that had sharpened us
& we inspired kids just learning to fast-
break: they could become like us & none
of us needed
to say so

sure after our protégés lost a few games
some of us felt
heartlessness but we kept
tough & coaches still called us
winners in life

even as our cheerleaders fell for men
able to relax

some of us now breaking
treadmills expensed by our
employers we varied our routines to trick our
minds into following
routines but then some
of us learned
of more weakness: we'd stretched
our aortas & calcified
our valves
not all of us survived & among those who did
rose talk that coaches who'd cussed had

abused us
yet some of us still
ran
as if our divorced
cheerleaders loved us

we knew none of them did but most of us
could still
find them in memories
their unwrinkled fingers nearly
touching their open
mouths

hoarseness from them
urging us to gain
on victory by again running
faster still 



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