You had to admire the shapeless genius of his outfit—
upside-down garbage bag over purple shorts.
Just a slit for his bald head, holes punched
through for his arms, and a draw string
he could tighten in case of rain.
I made him my pace car, and tried to stay
no more than five or six strides back.
My purpose: not win or place, just finish.
Like the rest of us, he knew that on race day
suffering must brave leg cramps and wind,
angst and winding climbs, and hope
must first be numbered and pinned to your shorts—
in his case, #88. I loved the symmetry
of those eights. Twin infinity sign standing
upright, one chasing the other just as I was chasing
him. At mile eleven, when the sun bled
through red rock hills and I tied my warm-ups
at my waist, and real runners flung
theirs into after-race oblivion, I learned
wisdom. Mr. Hefty tore off his garbage bag,
like the Hulk shredding another Armani suit.
And tossed it high. An updraft caught it,
till it floated above what we were, an undulating
river of huff and wheeze pouring out
of the canyon. Floated—an effigy he ran under,
as if he had escaped himself. Old man nipples
peering out at a new world, he tipped
back his head as if drinking the sky and he howled.
* * * * * * * * *
Lance Larson is author of three collections of poems, including Backyard Alchemy. His work has appeared in New York Review of Books, TLS, Raritan, Paris Review, Southern Review, Poetry Daily, The Best American Poetry 2009, and elsewhere. He has received a number of awards, including a Pushcart Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He lives in Provo, Utah, and serves as Associate Chair of English at Brigham Young University. "Like a Wolf" was published in New Poets of the American West.