A Sunlit Hand

Is it so bad?

so bad, (disbelief?)

and what if I told you the truth.

what would you say?

(shit, maybe nothing at all…)

because I already know all these faults.

except sometimes I hear them

from angles oblique

and I defend and distract with greed

not because I can’t stand to be wrong

(mostly I just have to be right)

but isn’t that what is wanted from me?

(when these shadows creep in)

I shine on a smile

a joke- not funny, but distracting

I’m able to pretend to get things off track

I can hide things with the expert of rats

you see, what I want…

I see what I want.

but inside I know what is gone-

I can feel it

in held breath

and I see it the the way

that your face rests,

missing its joy.

(and you told me!)

you asked me.

and I hollered! and stammered! and slammed!

(that’s when my brain

shrinks corners)

please believe me-

please read me

(I want it to branch out!)

my blame is abundant

I find everyone

(“hey, you!” Mr. Jones on the street

I was walking here… and how!

this ain’t fair… why don’t you see!)

I find everybody

I can point out for you and he and her

the room of despair? it is lonely and blurred

truth is

apparent

when lists of the damage

is totalled

and it grows and grows

as time slows and slows

and I go and go

recounting totals

back to the scene-

back to the scene-

why did I do it? (why did I do it)

can this be me

did anyone see

(and I find my sentence

and I find my resistance)

and you are there

wondering.

who?

who.

like an owl

we never see what is new.

the tide is today

and its chipping away

and the channels are deep and destructive

the tide is today

the sand is moving away

perhaps I could grab some to sprinkle

I could dust up this spot

and over here drop

and smile, (even if it’s just for the plot)

maybe in awhile

I could even smile

or dance, or sing… otherwise ought

to not be distraught

don’t I deserve that?

I know you do.

maybe you could even help me

(I could help you)

and I’m back here again

wanting to be your best friend.

not knowing what to do.

not knowing,

not seeing the angles

and surprised when I fuck something up.

with the best of intentions

it still is fucked up

and that means mistakes

the books say they happen

(I know they happen)

and I’m okay

until it comes to you

this esteem’s thin veneer

smudges interior

an unworthy inferior warrior

I follow their paths

I sense all the wrath

now I know what that can do

and I read how they follow

before it felt hollow

this density leaves out you

but I want you in here

if you’ll destroy this sphere

I swear I can deal with the fear

I’ve felt it arise

and dissipate before my eyes

leaving my sight back intact

yet it’s all under the waves

where you surf everyday

calling out to the shore

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MCoy’s Dillemna

It was dark when I started

you could see that

my eyes were covered

my pitch was flat

the food was tasteless

a hazard at best

and in no time, life

moved like rest

 

it was glossy

and figured

to play out like that

it was tossing

and lingered

’till that last at bat

and all of a sudden

I could see it all

the horizon of timelessness

plastered the wall

 

Henry was torn

his legged sewn in pieces

and a ragged tail

following short

bye brother I said,

he said see ya, brother

and in a few years that’s what we did

 

my rent was close by

and my feet were free

it was all pretty good,

except hauling groceries

it went on awhile

and then the rust bucket

came with a bill

made me say fuck it…

 

so I went to the glass doors

with creases and bullets

and was soon enough proving

that I could commit

to a measly 4 years

and a country and another

and those guys in the green

pretended to be brothers

but I all I could see

with my steady pay check

was the spots on the glass

and the beer on tarmac

it was a life of leisure

it was a life of the oceans

where sand and bikinis

were never frozen

where the cliffs were steep

and broken forgiving

it was fantasy, real world

it was life that was pouring

from every moment

I wouldn’t even sleep

it was hedonism and pleadin’

for another drop deep

 

it was chasing and racing

and falling face flat

and all the while I’d run on through that.

I found out on Fridays I could run for 2 hours

through red clay and jungle and all kinds of large spiders

and by moonlight the bats could carry you away

but I ran anyway, never afraid

 

I’d meet a strange room, where I wasn’t welcome

and soon have them drinking and laughing at one

of those lame jokes, see, I was no threat

and we all wanted safety, we gave it a rest

 

some were lazy,others just drunks

some were quiet, guilt ridden monks

some were stabbers, they’d see your back

and when they were done, you’d never come back.

 

soon I was laying and standing and writhing

she was confused by the life she’d been riding

so she said goodbye and I was just there

and I have a thing for long, brown hair

I never knew why, I still don’t

but there I was never saying I won’t

it was all full of yesses and it will work out

now I can say that, but I can’t quite shout out

because when I flew off and she told me goodbye

it took awhile , hell, it was only sky

between us, but in that case it was too long

I should have known and just kissed her so long

instead I was one place, but torn to another

I passed on those two years

and then passed on another

and that angel came to me and put up with this crap

and now she is just hoping I’ll cry in her lap

and fall asleep right there- undisturbed

because her happiness lifts me, and that unnerves

and sends me running- fear hijacked

the buttons

my wiring is crossed

filled with delusion

which I can’t see, I can’t even be fooled

the doctor tries, he’s got the tools

but I cannot wield them, I drop them, forget

so I think it’s getting better,

she screams, “not yet!”

Acclivity Necessity

I came into town on a night

in December

My eyes couldn’t see,

driven too far 

where I come from, you won’t

remember

the girl in the corner keeps reading… 

my stars

She’d like to believe, she can’t

see scars

It’s so bright in this place, it’s hard to
start seeing
it’s well taken care of, things each
have a place
there’s shiny thrones, with wipes for
mis-peeing
nobody will burden, nothing too 
face
if they only cared to, I’d be

on my way

mother and father, gave a
sister and brother
my uncle and aunt kept my tongue

clean with soap .

some guy in LA, gave me visions
of some kind of another
I was just happy to be sliding
down slopes
if I only cared to, I’d come out of the covers

but in this darkness

everything floats

in a winter like this you take what they
give you
only the bravest can go out on
their own
she’s holding my hand, her face
seems accepting
Believing most of these problems are
way overblown
and if I cared to, I’d get on with improving.

but something seems ill when it’s all mine-

mind to own

the wind from the west, is
never ceasing
it comes with scents, as old as
the breeze
I wanted to rest here, I came for
the breathing
my lungs are not stretched out, taste like
they bleed
and if I cared to, I’d know this is living

is more than a need.

and slower or faster by moments 

we heed

the truth is the moment no judgement

indeed

there is only now, no forever

stays a mystery

I can’t see back there

vanished to grey

and darkness shrouds

sounds slipped insane

from observation it’s easy to mention

conjunctions confuse junctions

like rain

we can’t see a thing

so we sing

we can’t hear a thing

give me bling

we can’t feel

anything-

it’s numbing the plumbing

residing with me

I once could tell you

“just rise above”

before I’d been shoveled over 

by fear

I once could show you

invincible love

before I’d been shadowed

by fear

I once could hold you

before I’d seen failure

deposited here

and now I’m quiet,

so quiet

I’m hoping you’ll stumble like I did in here

and we can sit silent together

in fear

like some kind of forever

a fairy tale, dear.

a curse of the wicked?

or decisions unclear?

where habits are trampled

in favor of fear

and love is a knowledge

though numb, it’s sincere

and I still need a way out of here.

the bubble is small, 

and somehow clear

clear enough feel your pain

my thirst is quenched while you give your tears.

and still you smile

remembering years

while I face my style

and pray for more years

and we neither see now

is our moment to steer

we wrestle with time

love versus fear

Double Yellow Line

I’m breathing, into my run-

I live on an old country road-

there are hills and cows,

but rarely a car have I know’d.

I feel this pressure for speed.

I feel all around me, their eyes

breathing is deeper, some labor

yet, no meaning in what I find.

 

this thing, the cause, has no name

though- easy to place words in spots

I can point blame, with great aim

for awhile, to stand in for what I got.

I’ve lost the feel of pit-pat,

this quiet road now has such noise

things sometimes get like that

no tires… shouts of an internal voice.

 

I’m impressed with it’s consistent spells

that’s the key, to successful sprees

across all the fields, and hills, and the dells

consistency runs away from me.

I can catch it for months at a time

but you know it can move, never does quit

it’s small, like a second or dime

at first you won’t miss it a bit.

 

after some moons come and go

no government mule, but man, I can pull!

realize forsaken, stars for the show

how to dig out of this lull?

I got hungry, but only saw food.

what would satisfy a mind so undone?

I was tired, but not in the mood-

for sleep, or kindness, or love.

 

It’s funny how you know at the time…

from strength you can see paradigm

and turn anyway to the far, far away

to the place where it’s all in delay.

I can blink and miss the whole day-

’till for an hour or so, when I go

away from linked moments smeared across, grey

and run. and run. and run. and whoah!

 

up ahead I can see situations

back there, stares every one

how my malfunctions, came to fruition

and I’m brewing it all with a buzz.

this kind comes from such effort

this kind comes with pain and pleasure

this time I’m not on the retort

just letting off some of the pressure.

 

it’s inside, so tight, detonated

each blast seems sloppy and foolish

building roads take time for creation

despite what timelines we wish.

my feet are covered in mud

my heart rate races because

my thoughts are always on pace

with the fear all over this place.

 

I’ve read about the building of brains-

I know that some remnants remain-

and I know that exertion, followed by learning

is the way to recover that burning…

feeling inside my soul

like when all the streets looked like gold

and when my heart was too big

that you said, I was just a big kid.

 

well, now, I’m grown and well learned

in the lessons of cynical burns

and depression is sure a true thing.

and depression is sure a true thing.

 

 

the songs all left for awhile

just darkness with ambiguous turmoil

where the path looks so clear, you forgot about tears

until you love asks why don’t you feel.

now I run down the middle of this street

I can react by placing my feet

if danger is there, I’ll meet it there

leave that side lane for breakdowns and despair.

The Moon Runner

1

His feet moved over the rubber belt as his breath matched the hum, hum, hum of the machine droning under him. Sweat burned his eyes and his heart beat with ease. His daily run was nearly complete as the timer closed in on 60 minutes. His bobbing eyes gazed and searched outside of the large glass dome. He could see the grey rocks surrounding his dwelling. It was all minor shadows detailing the big shadow. On the horizon all that could be seen was a hazy, white corona, a frown in the perpetual night.

This was home. He’d grown up here. Living from bubble to bubble. His mother, an astronaut, and father a horticulturist. His school, the church, the grocery… all bubbles.  Each connected by networks of tubes and vaults and necessity.

Running had always been he’d done, part of life, like eating freeze dried breakfast, watering vegetable plants, taking vitamins. Recently, he’d discovered generations old digital videos of his grandfather running across the forested mountains of Earth. He’d see his bearded grandfather smiling in the joy of open air and he would dream of straining up through mountainous forests and seeing across the sphere! Imagine the freedom of darting down, down, down! Careening around trees! Leaping over rocks! Crashing into the soil, scraping your skin, tasting the blood on your smile… free to go in any direction in such a wild place. Free to fall, to fail, to succeed. Free to conquer the terrain free to be conquered.

These images of trail runners on Earth had captured his mind and now he sat, hydrating, chewing an energy bar, and wondering at the rocks just on the other side of this bubble. They were so close… he’d even seen one up close at school before. They had to identify it for a midterm exam and then it went back, into the stark white cabinet of supplies. He never touched it when the specimen was passed around… he thought at the time, “it’s a rock… got it.” Now a sort of regret was sprouting…

He got up and walked back to his pod, to the steam shower.

2

In just 2 weeks he’d be tested for his physical exam final- a fitness test that required general upper body strength, total force exertion and a running component, measuring distance in 30 minutes on a calibrated running machine. He’d done these before throughout his schooling, but this test in particular would determine his career path… the better his score the more attractive options he’d have, maybe he’d even get to work in orbit if he were lucky. That would be his chance to glimpse the blue dot he’d seen so many time before in photos and text books. The place where his grandfather would scurry through the green landscape! His homeland.

His class had been training all school year for this test, running in the morning, free weights in the afternoon. The doctors had all said this was important for increased learning aptitude, neurological networking and the tests were showing it to be true. Earthly peers were falling further behind in academics while the moon schools advanced further along. Exercising, then studying… twice a day around meals. A monastic lifestyle of structure and repetition. In the evening community dinner, entertainment and sleep as the lights powered down to black stillness.

3

He woke up a little earlier this morning, unable to calm his excitement for today’s running test. He aimed for 6 miles on the running machine in the allotted 30 minutes. He’d run 4 miles in 20 minutes as a 17 year year old… but what had really changed in the last year? More of the same training regimen… the only difference was the urgency of finality… of his adulthood looming. Surely he could complete the measly minimum of 5 miles to obtain moon Walker status… his true goal was to run a complete 6 miles in 30 minutes. “5 minute pace, 5 minute pace,” he repeated to himself.

He drank his embrYoke-shake with a few swigs of carb-shotz and headed to the physical training center. He greeted his classmates and they were instructed to step on the Calibrated Running Machine.

“The CRM is set for 5 minutes of easy warm up. You will then enter the test period. The exam will have a 30 minute duration. Cover your maximal distance in that period. The clock will not be stopped, paused or restarted for any reason. All results are final. Your speed is controlled by the panel on your CRM, green button to increase pace, yellow button to reduce pace, red button should only be used to stop the CRM instantly. Good luck, we will begin in 5 minutes.”

He stared at his reflection. It glared back at him off the interior of the glass dome. He saw the starkness outside of the bubble and his eyes drifted up, to the frown of the horizon.

“Begin.”

4

The whir of the room grew steadily throughout the warm up period. He looked at his easily moving body, his shoulders nudging in step over the belt’s space. His chest filled and emptied and the first drops of sweat beaded above his lip.

“5,4,3,2,1… move at your own chosen speed. The testing period begins now.”

His finger pressed firmly onto the green button and his feet moved more quickly. He settled in. The CRM stated, “5:15 pace.” He kept moving, easing into the effort.

His hair bounced and his arms swung and his breath settled more deeply by the mile. 10 minutes into the effort and he was quite comfortable, but a bit behind the schedule he’d planned for. His finger depressed the green button, “five ten, five zero five, five minutes per mile.” He ran steadily, giving just the slightest bit more effort and waited for his now, heavier breathing to settle into the new demand. “3 miles complete… 15:30 elapsed.” His breathing unexpectedly remained slightly elevated. Too much for this pace.

In his head, the math began to feel impossible. How could he make up such time if he was already feeling such intense effort for this pace. He began laboring, his breathing uneven. This was anxiety, this was worry, this was  his future. How would he ever make up this time? Why had he begun so slowly? He pressed the green button, “four fifty five, four fifty.”

His breath grew, his face clenched and his feet flew… he was moving along, holding onto his future in desperation. His hips pumped and he drew his feet back extending to his toes as they left the belt…  and forward to catch his body at impossible intervals. He saw his reflection, he watched his legs churning until his left foot missed the edge of the belt’s track and he was thrown off balance, flailing downward on the moving belt, bouncing in a heap of sinew and shot off of the back of the CRM. He’d hit another machine and some resistance ovals and was scraped, and bleeding and his machine had stopped, its detectors sensing he had abandoned the test.

“Student. Are you hurt?”

He lay there in silent pain, breathing heavily, the timer marched on to 22, 23, 24 25, 26 minutes elapsed as his ankle throbbed in a foreign way. He stood and slowly climbed back onto the CRM, its belt inert. He thumbed down the green button, slowly the belt gained momentum from walking, to a slight jog, the minutes passed as he reached easy run pace and limped into the 6 and half minute pace range.

“2 minutes remains,” stated the instructor.

The display showed 4.56 miles gone underfoot. He pressed the button down hard, and limped harder. His ankle stabbing with each landing’s impact and then straining under each step’s agonizing stretch. A world of pain in each flexion, in each landing. He saw orbit status fading from his life, the pain was too much he was to fail.

“1 minute,” shouted the instructor.

4.89 miles, the belt came to a stop as the clock marked 0:00. He saw it there in bright red light. It was too late. He moved the white towel across the rubber mat and handles. When he finished sanitizing his machine he limped to the steam room and gathered his things for class.

 

 

5

Josh pushed the broom across the hard, grey surface of the shiny finish on the floor. It had been engineered to repel any fluids that might fall upon it. He moved the moon dust into a dust pan, and then he’d drop it into a chalky bin. When the small vacuum door was sealed he pressed the EJECT button which would allow the dust to fall with a quick, muffled burst of air to the lunar surface outside, most of it floating away across the rock fields, some leaving an eternal, trailing pile. Josh liked the Psssh sound it made each time he’d press EJECT. It seemed so sure, so final.

Josh hung the broom onto its hook and latched the dust pan into its slot and closed the cabinet door before he left the vacuum chamber, unsuited in the locker filled transition room and returned for his hourly sanitation of  the latrines. This was where the Walkers prepped for their shifts on the moon and it was clearly important to give them clean working conditions.

6

Josh stared down at his dinner- he chose the meatloaf tonight, although at this point he thought using the word “choice” was overstating things slightly. Macaroni, spaghetti, burritos these were the other 3 choices… he’d rotated through them for months now, awaiting a new shipment from Earth which was due to arrive in the next month or so. Weather delays back on the surface were delaying shuttle flights.

His days over the last year were spent dragging around his body as it managed to wrangle the mess of other human’s life on the moon. He’d wake in his pod, empty his bladder, drink his morning ration of Flui-food. It was touted by officials for its energy density and fluid absorption. Josh knew no different, he’d always done this- and now, he always would. He fate sealed in a bubble of sustenance. Most thought it a good, safe life and Josh tried to think the same and most days he could go along without much trouble.

These days Josh wasn’t able to view the moon rocks with the magic in his eye- he lost his spirit to Become and had been fading into his memories and lost promise, he was buying into failure, despair and hopelessness. His positive aoutlook believed this was temporary, that he’d snap out of it… but now it’d been 2 years since the CRM incident and he still limped slightly now.

He sank into his couch with some Crunch-i-bites and dialed up the screen. He piddled about, not able to find anything to his liking at the moment, he didn’t know what he wanted to watch… He came across an old file folder in his view history marked ‘Grandpa’ and pressed play. He watched Earth=trail videos for hours… his Crunch-bites ignored at his side. At some point he dozed off and dreamed of the hard packed dirt of Earth’s forests where untold scores of feet had trampled this winding path into and through the hills of America. He watched as rain pelted down on a tent where soup was being served in white cups in the middle of darkness. He saw his Grandfather run off into the rising of the sun across a flowery meadow, dancing in the wind as the brilliant rays blinded the camera’s view when particular branched were swayed in that breeze. He watched people bleed and sweat, and eat and fall and strain… and he wondered why? His research showed these were all simply recreational adventures. These were voluntary excursions, each person could end their suffering at any moment. But they continued on, sometimes just dots of lights bouncing away across the crest of a ridge- anonymous and definite.

7

When the lights woke him with their steady rise Josh found himself crunched into his cushions and stumbled to the eating cupboard. He reached for a breakfast shake and choked it down with a mineral pill. He pretended to straighten his hair and set off for his work. Meandering through the network of glass tubes that led to his workstation. Noticing the ever-present hallow outside on the horizon… Josh chuckled, snatched a pair of gloves, goggles and began scrubbing a commode. He worked quickly today and had his tasks completed in several hours. He was able to leave early and take a long walk back to his pod.

He had a mind to wander and found himself following an old route that led to the fitness facility. He stared into the glass box. He saw people of varying ages putting their bodies through the paces and found his hand rubbing his belly as it pressed into the limits of his coveralls and belt. He felt a ping of embarrassment and hopelessness. He was so far gone, time had passed him by. He watched a woman move gracefully over the belt, moving without any apparent effort. He watched a man, grizzled by time and mileage it seemed, lumbering with his light, aged frame through the minutes of the mind… each runner was held in a gaze, moving autonomously… but Josh knew- there was plenty happening in there… he lingered, looking for resolve, looking for hope and then felt himself drifting away- back to thoughts of the pod’s screen. To the terrain of Earth and he drifted home- with his mind full of desire for adventure… he slept again with dreams of trails underfoot… of deep, meaningful breath.

8

The days of sweeping and wiping and dusting and cleansing and sanitizing had become a relief… the ease of the work, the boredom which has previously been a burden were now a blessing as his mind wandered to the far off blue dot… which he had never actually seen. Just the frowning halo across the muted horizon of the moon. He felt a ping of remorse and anger for having taken such chances on his fitness test, it cost him any chance of ever getting beyond the dome and now… he would be doomed to limp around, cleaning up after the other more fortunate citizens of the moon. Stuck here, on the darkness of the dark side where the light does nothing but frown… “I let me down…” he thought again and again.

He entered the the vacuum lock, emptied the moon dust into the discharge bin… but this time, he pinch a handful from the pan into his fingers and slid his hand into his pocket. He put his tools in their places and headed to his pod.

9

After a week of depositing pinches of moon dust, Josh now had full drinking cup in his sleeping quarters. He would sift the sand through his fingers into a pan, pour it back into the cup, repeatedly watching the weight of the sand as it fell through the artificial gravity of the bubble system. He’d not off sometimes and drift into dreams of running… finding himself barefoot on the dirt trails of Earth. Wind blowing on his face.

After work one day, he found himself wandering toward an unknown place when his eyes met the door of the fitness room… standing and staring, he pressed his finger to the touch pad and the door opened. There was no one else around so Josh walked over and put his hand on the CRM. He stepped up onto the platform and pressed the green button.

The hum of the machine began and the belt moved between his stationary feet. Josh stared down at the pedestrian movement and gingerly placed his foot down, then the other and he was walking… he walked for a few minutes, listening to the whir of the belt. He pressed the green button down for a few moments and came to a trot. His body jangled atop the CRM, he limped a little and was quickly winded but he kept on. There, alone in the fitness room in his coveralls, Josh ran for 2 minutes… began sweating  and panting and then the door opened.

Josh hastily palmed down the red button, wiped down the machine and briskly left the room ignoring the occupant… walking toward home Josh felt like a stranger to himself. He wondered how such a familiar place could cause him to feel so alien. Why he was so anxious to have felt caught in this place- undeserving. Why the embarrassment?

The next day, Josh wore fitness attire beneath his coveralls. He made quick work of his cleaning duties and headed straight to the fitness room. He found the room empty again- he smiled, entered and got moving. The soreness hit his ankles… he laughed at how little work had brought on this stiffness. Lumbering along, the movement eased a bit but with the foreign effort he was soon feeling winded. The clock passed 10 minutes… he was nearing a mile. He watched the frowning halo on the horizon in the darkness outside. He saw a beam of light pass by on a lunar craft, “supplies!” he thought. “Dinner! something new for dinner…” he hoped. He ran on.

He reached two miles and his lungs were searing, despite the slowness of his gait. His heart raced and his legs were feeling weak. He pressed the yellow button, eased off the pace to a walk, gently coming down to 2 miles complete before turning the machine off. As he wiped his perspiration from the CRM the door opened. Josh turned and nodded to the woman who had entered, he thought the same woman as yesterday perhaps and left for home.

10

He returned the next day and the next after that to run. For weeks on end Josh made the daily visit and was beginning to feel at home in his body again. His run reached 4 miles and it began to feel less torturous. The soreness was a memory and he was beginning to see the first hints of fitness returning. He could begin to enjoy the steadiness of an easy run- no longer a stressor in itself- but a reliever of stress. The cleansing of breaths filling and emptying, purity in the exchange of gases through exertion. He felt something primal, something holy in the experience.

Josh continued in this way for months… working upward of an hour per bout… but he wanted more! He’d learned from the videos of his grandfather’s adventures that men on Earth would cover distances over 100 miles… running for days at a time in the mountains without rest. He’d seen where runners would cross state boundaries from end to end- running day to day to day- pushing their supplies in carriages. He’d learned of epic runs across deserts in the heat of summer… he wanted to do something extreme and his mind knew it was not to be found on a CRM. Josh continued his training as he searched for adventure.

11

Josh was running along- approaching 90 minutes into a treadmill effort- watching the brightness of the stars in the stark black sky. Over the whir of the CRM belt he heard the door open and he turned his head. A woman entered the room and started the machine to his right. They each ran in silence, only tandem whirs and the slight bogging of experienced footfalls upon the belt. Josh ran for another 30 minutes and eased down to 2 hours complete… a regular run for him now. He wiped his machine down. Turned to the woman and nodded hello. She smiled and continued her journey as Josh departed the room.

12

His mind was full of running now. His drawers full of collected moon dust- collecting the dirt had become more than a routine- it was now a compulsion. He had a few small sand gardens in his pod and he would rake them by hand with a fork, or brush… but even that was not completely satisfying. He had the yearning for more… a more complete use for the moon dust. He craved a kind of inclusion with his environment.

Upon arriving home after a 4 hour CRM run, Josh stumbled into his kitchen and dropped a container of moon sand on his floor. He was exhausted and hungry and ignored the spill in favor of finding calories and fluids. He ate and drank and laid down on the coldness of the kitchen floor.

He woke after a few hours feeling rested, and filthy. The grit was comforting. He abandoned cleaning it and would add his collections daily to the floor. Little by little… he was finding a relief for his tired feet, his achy body and a sterile environment in the soft, powdery moon sand. He’d sit and read his digibooks with his toes in the sand, dreaming of adventures in far off places. He’d stare off through his small port view at the haze of the horizon, catching the glimpse of the sun’s glow.

13

Josh entered the vacuum room, collected the moon dust in the pan. Poured it in his jar, screwed the cap tightly and poured the excess into the waste door, pressed EJECT and watched the moon dust float away on the strength of the air in the evacuation chamber. As usual some rested close by, some formed a light, billowing cloud and some trailed into a growing ridge of concentration away from the bubble’s wall. Josh studied the ground outside. He noticed tire tracks from lunar vehicles and imprints from the boots the Walkers wore. He could see the lights of the distant Lunar Hover Base and saw a hover vehicle landing in a cloud of dust as it’s lights dimmed and the vehicle vanished from sight.

Josh left the vacuum room and hung his broom and pan. He left the dressing area and noticed a locker left slightly ajar. He was alone as usual and stepped closer to inspect the red moon suit in the locker. He felt the strength of the fabric and how heavy it was in this artificial gravity environment. The suits were designed to counteract the lack of gravity on the lunar surface- in essence to make it feel like Earth… Josh looked at the label- 150 POUNDS, MALE. Just about right… On the moon, without artificial gravity Josh weighed about 25 pounds, on Earth though, and in this bubble world, Josh weighed a “normalized” 150 pounds…

“the suit would fit,” he thought.

Josh closed the locker door and walked slowly to the fitness room.

14

He knew the basics of air supply and suit use from drilling for emergency situations as a youth in school. Over the last decade, the bubble had become more and more reliable, drills were not held regularly like they had been and especially not for working adults. Assuming the technology was the same he might be able to borrow that suit… but, the penalty… what was the penalty? What if he used the space suit? What if he got ‘caught’ wearing the suit? Or… opening the exterior hatch… of course there is a control for that, a key… who has the key?

Josh stopped at the fitness room door and opened it. He took off his work coveralls and laid them on a bench and boarded the CRM quickly reaching a comfortable 7 minutes per mile. He just had an hour of running today- he was in a recovery phase. He watched the stillness outside the bubble… the void in his mind was infiltrated with thoughts of that vacuum chamber door… the outside! The outside? he’d never been outside-

15

His meal of freeze dried lentil soup was particularly tasty this evening. His toes massaged through the 6 inch deep base of lunar kitchen he’d collected over the previous 6 months… it was like a regular lunar surface in there… it had begun to spill into other rooms. He was sure to keep it out of the bed space, he had a barrier for that purpose and he tried to keep it to a minimum in the bathroom. The washing station in particular could cause some plumbing issues.

He was uncertain if there were rules pertaining to lunar sand in dwelling pods… it just seemed like something that would be frowned upon. Was there a rule? Was there a punishment for leaving the bubble without authorization? Could someone… borrow… a Walker’s suit… procure an air tank… go outside for a little walk… maybe jog a little… come back in, replace everything… Well, the air would be used… but he was already using air just being a resident… Could he borrow a few things for a brief few minutes, put everything back in its place… and just go on living unnoticed?

It seemed that he’d pretty much been able to move about without any real guidance at all, well since his career was determined anyway. As long as things were tidy at the Walk Center he could come and go as needed to keep up with his tasks… he never saw a supervisor, his meal credits updated regularly, even with the uptake in caloric need brought on by all the running he hadn’t had a problem obtaining all of the food he needed…

16

Josh finished his tasks quickly… he decided to leave the moon sand for another day and dumped all of it outside the bubble. He pressed EJECT and watched the plume of dust return to the lunar surface… “seems to be a fine kitchen,” he thought.

He poked around the locker room, the Walkers were gone for the day, and he jiggled handles testing for one that might just… be open… one after another he jiggled without luck. His hand rested on another and another. He looked up and saw a thin yellow tube squeezed into an overhead bin. He pulled it down, a basket of hoses, he picked one out and checked it for cracks. Clean. He set it aside and returned the basket. His hand continued looking for lockers that may be open… then click… a door glided slightly ajar.

The suit inside nudged the door open- inside he found a suit, slightly too large… 173 POUNDS, MALE read the patch. He was about to close the door, when he saw the shiny helmet at the rear of the locker. He pulled it out and lower it over his head, down to his shoulders. It was so heavy, almost 40 pounds in this artificial gravity environment. He set it next to the yellow hose and closed the locker.

The next locker was open as well… it held an air tank… reading half full… this would give him a few hours on the lunar surface… if he were walking, doing bubble repair… “but running,” he thought… “running… I’d need much more to run…” he kept looking for a full tank. Finally he ran out of lockers. He looked at the bench where the helmet and air hose sat… he knew what he was to do… but how? How could he get these back to his pod? He decided to use the simplest approach. He folded the hose, placed it in his helmet, wrapping it around the drinking straw connector inside of the helmet. Josh took off his coveralls revealing his fitness clothing underneath. He placed his coveralls over the helmet, left the dressing room and walked straight home unseen. He placed the helmet in his sleeping quarters and went to the fitness room to run.

17

Josh began running with a bottle of diluted carb-shotz in his hand… despite the convenient bottle holder on the CRM. He knew if he were to run across some wild, uninhabited place that he’d need water… and carbohydrate to fuel his effort… in addition to air and… a way to get out of the bubble. He would close his eyes and imagine he were bounding, striding away into the distance… leaving a trail of footprints one could use to find his way back to the bubble. He could run until his suit showed 55% volume in the air tank and then retrace his path. It would be his own personal trail… it seemed fantastic.

The door opened. It was the woman runner again.

“Hello,” Josh greeted her.

“Hi,” she replied.

“My name is Josh,” he extended a sweaty hand. She grasped it gently and smiled, “My name is Greta.”

“Greta, how long are you going today?”

“Maybe 45 minutes… I must return to my work earlier than anticipated today.”

Josh noticed a slightly European tinge to her accent…

“Oh, that’s too bad. What work do you do?”

“I work in the Walk-base.”

“You work with Walkers?”

“Yes… well, dispatch. I coordinate their schedules, oversee the shift work.”

“Interesting work. Have you ever… been outside?”

“Nooo… no, of course not. That is for Walkers.”

“Is it forbidden, Greta? Do you mean it is not accessible?”

“Yes, it is forbidden. It is not allowed.”

“What would happen if someone found themselves… outside of the bubble… who was… unauthorized?”

The whir of the belt continued on underfoot. Greta’s pace was now matching that of Josh as he neared the end of his 90 minute effort.

“Ha! Outside of the bubble… Josh? It is Josh, yes?”

Josh nodded his head.

“Josh, Walkers go outside of the bubble… and they are the only ones. There is nothing out there for anyone else. Not even for… runners…” Greta smiled wryly.

Where did your family live before coming here?”

“Slovenia… in the mountains of Slovenia… specifically… Mala Gora,” Greta recalled. “My parents spoke often of this place on Earth… I’ve seen neither their homeland, nor the Earth itself though I send Walkers out to see Earth often… it’s a funny life here on the Moon. Who knew there was so little discovery in a life of adventure.”

18

Josh sat up in his bed, looked around in the darkness. His fuzzy mind recalling strange images… a shiny helmet, a woman’s face… Greta, smiling… a muffled voice- they’re talking, running… running across a vast grey field of dust and stone. He laid back down and tried to sleep… tried to rejoin the run.

After an hour of restlessly laying about Josh got dressed and went into work. It was the off hours… before the Walkers would be in for their work shift. He thought he might try to do some extra cleaning… and maybe poke around some. When he arrived he was not alone.

His boss was there. Josh had met him once before, the day after he graduated from school when he was assigned a position in grounds maintenance. His boss looked at him, eyed his coverall’s chest and smiled, ” Josh! You’ve been doing great work here, Josh! Is there anything you need?”

“No, no, sir. Thank you… I was just doing an extra round… tidying up. I hope that’s alright.”

“That’s great, Josh! That’s the initiative we need around here.”

A tall man walked by, “Jumbo, hey, Jumbo! Come here, I want you to meet somebody!”

Jumbo stopped, “Bernie! Bernie, how are you today?!”

“I am GREAT! Oh man, Jumbo, this is… JOSH! Josh makes sure everything is good to go for our Walkers! He keeps their prep quarters safe and clean, empties that cool Vacuum Dust Door! I love that thing!”

“”Hi, Jumbo,” Josh extended his now tiny hand.  Jumbo’s hand easily enveloped it.

“Josh, everything looks great!” he spoke in a deep, slow, friendly growl. “Do you have a minute? I want to show you something, come with me.”

Josh followed Jumbo and Bernie followed them down the bubble-way… under a stark blanket of stars. Josh looked up in awe, he’d not seen a view like this before. The ceilings throughout the bubble were solid to protect from impacts from incoming objects, it seemed there was no expense spared in this area of the bubble.

They passed through an area marked AUTHORIZED USERS BEYOND THIS POINT and walked through a red door… a woman was working over a station across the room. She heard her visitors, stopped what she was doing, straightened up and turned, her dark hair flowing in an arc as her eyes stopped met Josh’s.

“Josh What a surprise! Welcome. What brings you to the Walker Control Section?”

“Jumbo… and Bernie. They bring me. How are you, Greta!”

“Hi Greta, I thought Josh might enjoy some of the finer things of Walker-base…” Josh looked around the room as Jumbo shamelessly out-flirted Bernie. Greta had them in her hands. Josh looked across at the monitors, showing exterior views of his moon home. Most cameras seemed to be inside of the bubble at key entrances or major intersections of hallways. He recognized most. Some other areas he did not recognize. One was a large green cabinet he’d never seen before.

“You all have quite a monitoring system here,” Josh complimented Jumbo.

“Yes, Josh! Well, mainly for safety… and accountability. We have cameras everywhere! Well, not in the lockers… privacy you know.”

“…and not in the commodes or pods!” chimed in Bernie.

Greta rolled her eyes and smiled to Josh. “Each camera is marked by an indication number… and those each correspond to this map. Our Walkers are able to make their way, externally around to each access point and we are able to communicate any needs internally in a similar manner. We find it very useful.”

Josh noticed there were many more exits and entryways than he had imagined for the bubble and that it was a truly huge structure. Josh eyed the exterior views and imagined the cold, unwelcoming environment outside… he shivered a little inside.

“What happens if a Walker loses their keys?” Josh asked, hoping to sound as if he were joking.

“No keys, Josh!” Bernie gleefully blurted out, “Sensors in the gloves of the suits! Walkers can get in and around almost anywhere with just a glove!”

Josh smiled… “interesting… brilliant, Bernie!”

“Well, we’ve bothered you enough, Greta. Always a pleasure,” Jumbo guided the group from the Control Center. Josh gleamed one more look at the monitors, the large green cabinet marked O2, location A7- oxygen tanks… and then at the map. Just down the bubble corridor from the Walkers locker room.

“Goodbye, Greta. See you around,” Josh walked toward the door.

“Yea! See ya, Greta,” Bernie blurted out stupidly.

“Good Bye, Bernie, Jumbo… Josh…” Greta stated flatly, glancing at each in turn and holding her eyes for an instant when she landed on Josh. They each smiled.

19

Josh rescued himself from the glee squad and return to the locker room to return to… work, away from cameras. He swept up what he could, slowly. He pushed the broom around, wiped the commodes down repeatedly… waiting and waiting. He was tired and wanted sleep now, but his mind was full of possibility and curiosity.

The door in the locker area flung open. The Walkers. They were boisterous and loud. They were slovenly pushing over each other. They were… as far as Josh could tell… idiots. They told tasteless jokes about woman, men, children, animals… but not a peep about religion or state. Those seemed to be the only truly sacred topics for these beasts. They pushed each other and put each other down and snarled and Josh wondered if he should leave…

The Walkers continued to get dressed while Josh pushed around the broom, wiped down mirrors… wasted time. In 30 minutes they were suited up and out the vacuum door… doing who knows what, for who knows how long. They never even seemed to notice he was there… Josh thought he might as well have been a faucet in their eyes.

Josh got to work, quickly making inventory of the ajar lockers. He found a few suits his size, tried on various boots and looked feverishly for an air tank that was full. His search brought him through every locker. He reached the end and wanted to learn more… there was the double doors that must lead to the green cabinet. Josh grabbed his broom and pushed it toward the double hallway doors.

He opened the door on the left, ignoring the WALKERS ONLY sign painted on it at eye level. Cautiously he pushed a broom down a secluded hallway and brushed a small sampling of dust into a large green cabinet. He turn his broom around and went back to the door. It was now locked by a sensor… “should’a brought a glove,” he thought. He tried the other end of the hallway… it opened into a cafeteria. At the far end of the tables he saw some double doors. He hurried to them pretending to sweep. He circled back around to the locker room, put away his broom and made his way home to sleep.

20

After 5 hours on the CRM Josh had seen the majority of the fitness room’s users come and go. He was a fixture of the room to them all now. Gone was the jumpy reaction he’d had to a sudden opening of the door. Gone was the exhaustion of 5 minutes of slight movement- his body and mind had become something new- singular and focused and something more… they were wanting a new challenge… they wanted to move; to explore.

21

The next day at work Josh found an open locker, he pulled on the suit marked 168 POUNDS, MALE… slightly large but doable… and had a bit of extra space inside. He walked to the door and opened it, leading to the restricted hallway and the large green cabinet. He walked up to it and stared… looking for a handle, or lock… there was none… He looked around the area, searching for a button of some sort and while leaning around the edge his gloved hand touched the cabinet, a small burst of air signaled a steady movement of the cabinet doors as they opened. There, some 30 air packs were filled and ready to go… 8 hours of air in each! Enough air to run 4 hours… he pulled one down revealing an attachment area to the inner cabinet wall- the mounting hardware was the mechanism by which the air packs were filled… Josh replaced the air pack, walked back over to the door, his gloved hand was sensed and the door opened. He returned the suit, completed his tasks for the day and casually made his way back to the CRM to log his mileage… and to think about what might be.

22

Back in his lunar floored kitchen, Josh wondered why nobody had been alarmed over the missing helmet, the hose… the wandering of the floor sweeper into unauthorized areas… It’s one thing to neglect a little hose… but a helmet??? Someone, some Walker must be missing it. And then today, his perusing of the air tanks- it was as if nobody was enforcing anything.

He heard a lot of somewhat sinister suggestions around who was expected to do what… but nobody had ever not done what was expected, nobody he’d ever met, anyway… nobody except himself, Josh. He swelled a little bit with pride and took the last bit of his 3rd helping of Rotini with sausage in tomato sauce from its pouch.

23

Back into the fitness room the next day Josh found himself running alongside Greta… she had greeted him quietly with a slight smile and had returned her attention to the task of her workout. She was running a bit faster today, more intensely… but seemed normal otherwise. When she completed her run she walked over to Josh’s CRM, placed one arm on her hip, the other on the side handle of the machine and asked Josh how he was today.

Josh glanced over, “fine. and you?”

“Fine, thank you. You’re looking very fit these days, Josh. You must really love running! What is it that has you in here all of the time? What do you love about all of this running?”

The belt whirred as Josh thought, “I guess I’m looking for something.”

“yeah, well, don’t look too hard. Sometimes you have to… walk, to find your prize.”

“I’ll stick with running for now, Greta. Nice to see you.” Josh returned to his run… bouncing in rhythm with the belt, the CRM adjusting its pace to his stride as the frowning halo held the blackness of the sky- cupping the fishbowl of stars overhead and framing the soft, cold dust of the surface beyond the bubble.

24

Josh decided to go into work a little early. He waited until the Walkers might be gone… but heard them down the hallway as he approached his work station. He sat in the hall and waited, eating out of a pouch of oatmeal. He squeezed it down bit by bit until he heard no more sound in the locker area.

He entered and walked straight through to the vacuum chamber where the Walkers had just made their exit from the bubble… he saw a few trailing off to the distance on the right- still smashing through their world haphazardly. He grabbed his broom, swept up the moon dust, collected some in a jar, disposed of the remainder and pressed the EJECT button.

swoosh… the dust left the chamber and returned to its inert home. Josh hung up his broom… checked the lockers for a suit his size. There it was, 150 POUNDS, MALE.

He picked it up and tried it on. He twisted on the helmet being sure to keep the drinking straw in the front and inserted the yellow air hose to his hip access port and then to the collar of his suit. The boots were a little tight… but not troublesome. His running shoes fit right inside of them with just slight snugness.

The suit felt VERY heavy in the artificial gravity. He slogged to the hallway door, it opened at his mere presence. His heart began to race as he saw the green cabinet. He walked to it with exaggerated steps, placed his hand on the door. Pssshhh… the doors opened. Josh reached for an air tank, strapped it to his suit, high on his shoulders and back and connected the yellow hose… he took a breath. and another. and another. He breathed for 30 seconds, big gulping breaths. He was getting air!

Josh walked down the hallway back toward the lockers, the doors parted for him, he turned right, passing his broom and dust pan and jar full of moon dust for his kitchen floor. He entered the vacuum chamber and approached the exterior exit door. He stood and breathed and slowly outstretched his arm. His hand spread, fingers wide inside of the glove. He could hear himself breath inside of the glass helmet, his heart beating deeply with the effort of the suit in gravity and the anticipation. His hand touched the door.

25

Pssshhhhh… the rear chamber door closed behind him and locked shut. The exterior bubble door opened, unlocked and he leaned into its void. Suddenly he felt the weight of the suit and the helmet dissipate and he moved to the threshold of the bubble’s door. Here under his feet was the shiny bubble floor he’s cared so well for. There was the moon.

He stepped forward into the softness of the grey dust. Then again, two feet standing on the moon. He walked out a few paces and turned to the bubble, for the first time seeing his home on the moon, he waved to Greta who might be watching an anonymous Walker late for a shift… The bubble’s smooth glass curves dominated this rocky, dusty place. It’s shiny surface reflecting the frown of the horizon behind him. Pssssh. The bubble’s exterior door closed. Josh was outside.

He stood, staring at his reflection in the bubble door, his heart raced, his breath shallow. He began feeling a slight panic at his situation. He felt woefully undeserving and under prepared- as if some uncertain punishment would be laid upon him. He stopped, he smiled, he chuckled and he turned to the right and began running away from the worn path of the Walkers.

Skipping over the remnants of the ejected moon dust, Josh ran alongside the bubble and it’s hallways to his left. He ran passed the fitness room where he saw a few people moving over their belts. He felt like shrinking a little at first… then straightened up, ran tall, turn toward the bubble and gave a big wave to the runner’s inside!

Josh ran on passing his pod, stopped for a moment and looked in through the port window… seeing his lunar kitchen and the door to his sleeping and washing quarters. When he reached the end of the bubble wing he continued running toward the frown on the horizon, hoping to keep a straight line toward the saddle in a distant silhouette.

He was out there now… running on the moon. He figured, he had about 4 hours of time out on the surface before his air supply was depleted. So it’d be best to run in a straight line… to make the most progress in his 2 hours of time he had to explore before turning back. He trotted, adjusting to the weight dispersal, shifting the suit’s mass this way or that. 13 minutes gone, Josh stopped and looked behind him. He saw for the first time outside of his kitchen floor, a path in the dirt, where his feet were marking the trail. Huge moon boot prints in the lunar sand. The bubble was shrinking in size but still the dominant object of the landscape. He continued on blazing this trail.

His mind wandered to the forest hills of Earth, to the prairies and gorges and waterfalls, the redwoods and fern covered wetlands… all the while his body encapsulated in this moon suit, breathing bottled air and running across this stark, grey surface. He found a difference in the effort and force needed to propel his mass forward, rather than simply keep up with a CRM. His mouth became a bit dry, he found his helmet’s straw and sucked… sugar water… cool sugar water! He smiled and sipped more.

Josh ran on another 15 minutes and stopped at a rock outcropping. In his view there was nothing but shadows in the darkness. He was surprised how well he could discern hazards in such low light. His mind seemed to be filling in the blanks and catching the darkest voids, steering his feet to the most grey spots. He’d had a few stumbles but no falls. Falling on this terrain while running could be disastrous- a torn suit out here… 45 minutes from the bubble would be deadly. He looked back at his tracks, close to his feet. His eyes followed them back across the grey, dry beach until they met the impossible darkness. He thought he could sense a faint glow of white light in the distance where the bubble might still be reaching out but he was uncertain of that. He was alone on the moon.

Josh kept running, sipping sugar water and running toward the horizon. The glow of the horizon was becoming brighter and extended higher into sky, overtaking the light of the stars. There was no longer a frown on the horizon but a brilliant wall of white light. He ran on, his pace quickening slightly as he took note of the air gauge. 73% remained… he had another 45 minutes before he’d need to turn back.

His feet made no discernible sound as the boots landed stride after stride. His breath was easy. Inhale… stride, stride… exhale… stride, stride. He could run all day like this. To his left was darkness, to his right was darkness and straight ahead a wide grey path leading to pure light.

He ran toward that place with steps piling into miles. He had 65% of his air and knew that in 10% more air use, he’d have to turn back. He picked up the pace. The sky now nearly all light in front of him, he could see every rock at his feet as if he were in his kitchen. He ran harder and faster, the inside of his suit getting wet with effort. Until the bright white light gave way and he entered into a well lit surface backed by a void of space speckled with a zillion stars.

Josh noticed a small bump in the horizon, he wondered if he could reach that rock before turning back, he pressed harder and harder. His feet deftly meeting the lunar sand whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh. The large boots creating pillows of moon dust with each step, tiny craters of a man. He pressed on, eyes focused on that growing rock, it seemed to be changing colors… it was no longer grey or white but.. more of a pale blue… and has he ran toward it grew more round rising from the horizon. His breath drew him toward the object. 60% air remaining… he was using air more quickly now.

The pale blue mound was now taking a definite shape, he was feeling a little overwhelmed, not daring to think of what it could be, in his mind he would refer to it as the rock, “run to the rock.” His intuition knew something else was true and he ran harder and harder. The mound’s base began shrinking in on itself as it rose higher and the sky above the horizon flattened in its darkness.

He ran on and the mound was certainly not a mound… but a ball its shape was nearly complete and he began making out details as it rose above the horizon. He noticed white swirls and spots of color… greens, browns… he looked on in disbelief. It was the Earth.

He stopped and stood and watched through tearing eyes for a long time. Then he sat and watched the Earth as it spun across the blackness.

26

beep beep, beep beep, beep beep, beep beep Josh’s air tank pulled his attention from his meditation. 49% air remained.

Josh stood quickly, panic setting in. He sipped the sugar water and turned back toward the bubble, running. He followed along his long, unending string of symmetry and knew where it led… and wondered if he could make it back. He thought he probably could, but for what? What punishment awaited him, what future awaited him? This was his moment to explore to adventure into wherever his feet could take him.

Josh stopped running. Stared down at his trail, and felt the enormity of Earth behind him. He turned and began running toward his home. He ran for 15 minutes and knew he could not make it back to the bubble. He ran on farther over a ridge of moon rocks, down into a small crater and across it’s enormous dish. He climbed back out of and onto the ridge across the expanse. He ran on… 25% air supply. A few small beeps… beep beep, beep beep, beep beep

The pale blue dot grew larger with each breath. His air emptying, Josh ran on and on through the sand and across fields of black moon rock. His feet would slip on them and hush into the soft virgin sand. His breath filled his helmet and his heart beat gave rhythm to his empty thoughts.

Josh ran as far as he could until there was no air left to draw from the pack.

One long beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep… Josh pulled the hose and silenced the sound. Josh fell to his knees. He gasped and dropped to his side. He went in to and out of the blackness, catching glimpses of the Earth… and glimpses of his grandfather and glimpses of black.

The moon became lush with forest and bird song and blooming flower. The distant grey ridges became glorious snow capped peaks skirted by deep evergreen and breeze. Nearby a forest stream babbled through small rounded boulders. Ahead on the trail his grandfather ran toward him with open arms and a wide, bearded smile.

gravity

i’m dealing with

the gravity

to overcome

pass-ivity

my body just a sack of stones

i’d hand over my arm bone

to get up this hill

to crest its top

but then on the other side

there’s that drop

where gravity pulls me

into the Earth

better use caution

or bounce ‘cross the dirt.

kinda makes me smile

(like Goldilocks)

the way these things

elevate and drop

the way I can find

the highs and lows

they tell me

breath through your nose…

I can’t get nowhere

not like that

look out there!

it’s a black cat.

you know I’m a runner

I know it’s good luck

jus’ watch out for that

raised rebel flag truck

it’s diesel black smoke

making me LOST

my lungs taken under

my vision pays the cost

county road is crumbling

right from the white line

a bike lane or sidewalk

would suit just fine.

give my taxes

for something like that

but who am I to say

hey, I’m broke flat

my breath is heavy

my legs are tired

I get home and

my brain is wired

not wired shut,

sippin’ milk shakes

open to it all,

even mistakes

it’s not perfect,

just a well worn trail

either gettin’ strong

or gettin’ frail

you can live it long

sitting on the couch

drinking the beer

growing your pouch

and hey, that’s cool

I like that too

but not until after

I work my running, smooth

in my mind

it seems like such

for those passer-bys

not-so-much

it’s jangly, and sloppy

and clunky and slow

still, its faster

than if I don’t go

so come along with me

we don’t have to talk

it’s better that way

we’ll stop, if we stop.

sunshine and raining

“training, not straining”

rest, if you’re tired

stated Lydiard

give me a hill,

give me a roll

let me run fast some

but mostly jog slow

yeah, I said

I can be a jogger

it’s my run

don’t need to bother

to tell me how to move

run fast enough

to regulate my mood

look at my run

it transcends quiet

I tour through a village

I run dark at night

I scurry like a human

in the hills at moonlight

my breathing ain’t measured

my time is all, right

my miles are covered

from fall to fall

my footprints are everywhere

in the snow and the ice

my neighbors know now

that I’ve got a vice

an hour of breathing

make it 2 ,3, 4

you know if you’ve done it

anything but a bore

to run through a mind

to search what’s inside

reveals itself

only after some time

those solutions

work like a potion

no computations

this running motion

be still the commotion

if it can be stilled…

run a little harder

if it’s something to kill

so, let me run short

or let me run long

the length of my shorts

can make me feel strong

traverse a mountain

forests atop Beech

then give me a beer

and a bed to sleep…

many miles,

beer

and sleep

gravity is pulling

and it pulls real steep

there’s plenty here

but nothing to keep

Bear Wallow (10 mile)

The morning was cool, and foggy… a slight drizzle hovering in the air. The mountains above the Watauga River were in their finest form. This is a race still in its infancy and there were about 15 adventurous souls near the barn, ready to rumble into the meadow and upward into the forest.

The command was given and we were off, chuckling, jovial, smiles from ear to ear. Yip! Woot! and then silence. The rhythmic brushing of trail shoe on grass, the hushing of the Earth soaking in these visitors. One by one we reached the tree line and disappear.

The front group quickly vanished from my existence and I fell in with a few other runners, reluctantly leading the charge upward through the first 3 miles. At 10 minutes I knew I was already too close to the red line and wanted to back off but lacked the discipline to step off the single track and fall into a more appropriate pacing for my sprouting fitness level. This was to be my longest “long” run in about 9 months… after taking 3 months completely off coming into a recent surge in mileage. I was sure to have a long second half of the race and this early aggressive start was doing me no good. I knew all of this, and still there I was, unable to simply let myself stop, step to the side and gather my effort… I wanted to somehow make those others… pleased by pacing the group.

Behind me I hear what seemed to be labored breathing… “oh, God! oh, God! oh, God…” or is it “O-kay, O-kay, O-kay…” I notice my dichotomous perspective and plug away twisting and climbing and dipping across small, spring fed creeks. We catch another runner. I am relieved to have him set the pace and that it is eased back somewhat. He has made the choice I could not. The three of us move along the trail, sharing a few thoughts. I am careful to not engage in too much conversation. I am here for the work and for the woods, there will be time to chat later on. I keep the talking trail related, follow the orange arrows, look for the hidden drops.

A half mile out from the 3 mile aid station the leader of our group begins pushing a little harder and gaps us. I am feeling that initial effort now and know that this stretch is crucial. I back way off and gently take it into the aid station. I pause to fill my bottle as the lead woman runs through the stop with a quick gulp. I top off my hand held and give a few more moments to create space on the trail and set off with renewed eyes. I begin to soak in this place.

The trees come alive, the mist hangs and collects on my face. The air is spectral white and I recall times when I could breeze through a run like this. I come back to myself and feel the loading and unloading on my legs, the bounce of body weight carried across this technical terrain. Zoom! Down this hollar and then the climb up the other side… no long grinds yet, just twinges of sting in the legs- a prelude to pain.

I am holding back. I know the dangers. My second wind comes to me now after recovering for a few miles. The trail tops out for this section  and I feel the excitement urging me to go catch the next two runners, they are right there. I see them at every switchback. A half mile of running a little harder and I’d overtake them… at least temporarily. This competitive runner is buried inside of me, yearning to get out! I am able to convince him to stay there, to wait until another day. I am not denying him, just asking him to run with me, to internalize the desire. I’ll need it soon enough to keep up with myself; to do my best with what I have.

I pass through the second aid station, a quick stop to refill, still maintaining contact with the others. I see them for brief moments then they disappear, at time the trail’s folds allow us to be close enough to extend a smile and a grunt of ‘good work’.

We enter the boggy area and I know on the other side of this is the real pain… the climb out. I enjoy running through the Jurassic gully, beyond large downed trees, through the mysteriously appealing odors of decomposition… and then I am in rhododendron and climbing. My heart rate spikes and my lungs sear… with even the brief climbs now. I chop down my strides, I use long, smooth arms swings and I am able to regain sanity… ‘chug, chug, chug up the hill’. I leave the weight of anxiety behind.

I hear the gasping, heavy breaths of the other two runners as we work together to navigate the trail crossings over jeep roads, following arrows and guessing at a few junctions- straight ahead and hope to see a marker… the strategy works and we move up and up. The climbs get longer, steeper… or do they? The brain is hypoxic and I am unable to know or care about any reality but where the terrain meets my feet.

I move ahead, 14 inch strides… counting my breathes, 1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4…. I reach a crest, glide down the other side and switch back to climb again…. I don’t know how long I’ve been climbing, I don’t know how long it will be and it doesn’t matter. This grinding effort, these searing breaths feel like home- it’s been so long since I’ve run with this determination and patience. I am able to watch it happen, to observe my rationalizations…. the reasons my mind gives me to walk- but another part of me is more comforting and counters- you can slow down, stay within yourself, you will not walk… run up this hill. And so, I do. It feels good to hear from this friend.

I run up every hill, and down again… higher and higher until I see a clearing through the trees, it is a bright green glow of a meadow. I follow the trail as it descends, zigging and zagging back to the barn. I meet up with the female runner I’d begun the day with, we enter the meadow together and I follow her through the trail cut into the grass.

We arrive at the barn where smiles and high fives and stories of the last 90 minutes are shared. I am beat and renewed. I am triumphant and empty handed. I am thirsty and quenched. I am resting and yearning for the next run. I am content and becoming.

after a few miles…

Come with me.

come see, what I see

I know it is worthwhile!

run with me.

it feels free.

until after a few miles-

please hold me up, 

prop me up

my legs are giving away…

but that’s okay

I’ve run farther

and just yesterday…

 

that dog there-

he don’t bite

just watch his bark!

that car there-

he don’t mind

he just likes to park!

 

and watch all of this

the Earth spin

morning until night.

my time is this

I’m back again

steps lead to right.

 

mind and body

spirit feels lofty

won’t you come join me?

I won’t promise

you will see a thing-

at least not what I’m seeing…

such sweat and toil

the strain will boil

but oh, there is something!

 

It doesn’t come easy

(unless it does

but those days are rare)

it’s not always pleasing

(unless it is

in fact it’s custom here)

 

Now, I’m not discussing 

the flower or bird

or even the bear.

although to be true

with my word

those things are there.

what I’m exploring

I’m often ignoring

it’s pain or joy or something

that’s imploring

or in plain hiding

which with a string of stepping

may appear in my mind

and I’ve see in no time

that this is the thing that’s been missing

 

come run with me

there’s things to see

after a few miles…

 

 

 

The Goblin, The Pyramid and Grady Hill

There is something in a name. The first time I run a new route I am lost- I have no bearing, no expectation or where I should be, when I should be there. Unknown are the hazards or pleasant surprises that may exist… and on those new runs- it is exciting and refreshing, sometimes even a little scary.

In the day to day life of a runner though, we are creatures of routine. I find myself returning to the same 3 or 4 routes on a daily basis- my easy route, my long run road, the other easy route… these carry simple descriptions- usually the road name itself is enough.

Then, there are test workouts, gauges throughout training that carry true weight. Speaking their names conjures excitement, despair, and possibly anticipatory hypoxic fits! These runs become best friends over time. Something brews in that sweat, pain, focus and “shared” experience with these routes. They become something like pets, they earn and carry names. They are spoken of and remembered for years across moves and they bring back vivid, lucid memories.

Here are a few of my local favorites:

The Pyramid is named for a pyramidal shaped home at the course’s terminus. Rumor around the wood shack is this pyramid harbors a large crystal of unknown power… though the home itself is mostly a crumbling deathtrap beside the road…

The route climbs steadily for 4 miles before flattening out above the imaginary line dividing North Carolina from Tennessee above the Watauga River… over that time the route gains about 1000 feet. Atop the ridge the road is gentle, fast even and offers views of Beech Mountain ski slopes, and Watauga Valley and rolling green fields. Total mileage about 10 miles round trip.

Grady Hill is not really much of a pet name… because well, if you’d ever run Grady Hill you’d know it speaks for itself. Unfortunately it is all too convenient to get there from my house and I find myself running easy runs on this 20% grade often… occasionally, I race against my prior self to see where I am in my fitness continuum.

After a 3 mile aggressive climb Grady Hill falls away severely- almost dangerously. Now that you’ve thrashed your legs you get 2 miles of rolling asphalt to finish on! Any nickname for Grady Hill would be one syllable and 4 letters long.

The Goblin is an untasted fruit combining the most difficult portions of the Grady Hill and The Pyramid. The crux of it is a lot of climbing, much of it very steep and lot of descending… lots of it very steep… all packaged around some flat, fast running. It forms a figure 8 loop which when mapped resembles a Goblin… or a random bunch of squiggly lines. I believe my legs and head will feel like haunted strands of cooked spaghetti when I finally run this route.

The Royal Tanenbaum takes its name from the combination of my fandom for Wes Anderson films and the road which marks the 7 mile turn around on this out and back. It is mostly flat and punctuated with a few bursts of short and steep hills. The approach to Tanenbaum Rd. is a long and gradual grind.

Alternate name: If a Run Could be an Asshole 14. The final 2 miles are filled with spiky mountainous hills, darting territorial dogs and a good long hill to my finish line. I love this run for marathon prep… and masochism.

I have many old favorites from my running past. It is nice to sit back and allow my mind to re-run along these old familiar friends. This is a special gift running gives back to us, experiences you only earn by getting out there.

Virtue of the Unscratched Nose

My son is shoving a cheese sandwich into his mouth… “wha’s tha ‘n y”r ha’, da”y?”

I wait. He finishes chewing and asks again, “Daddy, what is on your hand?”

I bend down to his 3 year old height turn the top of my hand so we can both inspect it where I had written in black ink earlier and answer him, “this reminds me of how much to run today.”

“oh… But, what is it?”

We look again. “6×800@8k”.

Nobody in our house knows what this means.

I have a vague, technical recollection from years and years of training, grinding out the effort early in the season, blossoming in consistency… but today, nobody in this house knows what this really means. It’s been years since I’ve engaged in any true training as a runner. The training time traded in for diapers and bottles and dishes and kisses and snuggles and love and fatigue and sleeplessness and scrounging discarded bites of cheese sandwiches otherwise bound for dog scrap but no… I won’t waste it so it goes down the hatch.

The training time gone to laziness, comfort, haziness, drinking another beer because- what the hell, I deserve it… and choosing this over exertion again and again and again… Runner me? I use to know that guy. Now there is someone else in my skin… in that mirror. Should I get to know him? What would I call him?

I decide to give the text book answer… I tell him what each number means and satisfied he runs off to get ready for bed, tells me he’s not running tonight. 30 minutes later, he is snoring away and I am lacing up my shoes and resolving to complete the prescribed 6 times a 1/2 mile hill workout.

After a quick 5 minute warm up (so as not to eat up my meager mileage with such things as warm up running- on a newly added workout day… or maybe just get to the work before I have a chance to change my mind)  I hit the line for the first repetition. I complete it easily and think… ‘this won’t make me tired’. Of course, knowing full well that in a matter of minutes I’ll be gasping for survival.

I return to the starting line and turn back up the hill for number two, a little too fast getting out- getting loose now… and knowing this is probably the best I will feel today. A little faster. When I reach the line again I am tired from the recovery alone… I give myself a few extra seconds (as reward for being out there) and get going into the “dark place”. The light of the idealized start is vanished, there is no hope for seeing the end, not yet… just the hard work in the middle of a work out. In this place there is one hope for success- to keep going, to focus on the task, to stay calm, to work. I am a little slower this time, but directly where I planned to be. Ok. Sink into this.

The sweat now speckles my face as I return to run the 4th repeat. My nose itches with the collecting streams of perspiration. I mindlessly swipe it away- happy to be relieved of the annoyance. I wipe my eyebrow, then the other… I think… is this the way, am I going to wipe my face clean this entire workout? I’m here to run. I decide on allowing the annoyance. I will run through the annoyance, watch it fester, see what happens… At the end of the 4th half mile my time a slows slightly, a few seconds. I guess it’s more from distraction than fatigue.

The growing urge to wipe my nose has become my entire world! “If you wipe it,” I tell myself, “it’ll signify my obvious lack of impulse control.” So I keep watching, I run the fifth repeat, the feeling begins to rescind itself… a few seconds faster. The tunnel is gaining light.  I turn back into the hill one last time, I know this is it, I will finish this workout- it will be a success… and I think back to my itching nose… it is a black hole of attention, I feel affection for this sudden willingness to accept the discomfort. This game is ridiculous… there is something here.

I am one minute in, rounding the final turn on the hill, hitting the small relief in the hill’s grade before cresting upward again to the finish line… a car is approach from the rear, gaining on me… who will reach the line first? I imagine it matters… and try to hold the late 90’s sedan off… I am nipped at the line. The tail lights fade around the curve, the squeaking breaks become faint.

The sun is fragmented in the western sky. The clouds each hold their favored colors. Orange, purple. I see pink and red in barely discernible highlights. I am 8 seconds fast on the 6th repeat. I smile, laugh. I recognize this place… accomplishment, joy, relief…

I scratch my nose- finally allowing it. I rub my soaked cotton t-shirt across my face and feel it’s exfoliation… I feel renewed in the the chill of the summer night’s mountain air. I walk and relish the moment of fatigue before plodding back downhill, around the curves and to my home.

I hear our youngest husky howling in the yard, she is not pleased with being left behind. The lightning bugs are just coming to life again as the darkness grows. The stars above do their best to rival this dazzling, yellow starlight bobbing above these green mountain fields around my home. I step gently onto the porch, the wood creaking under my Saucony trainers.

The dogs greet me, waiting for their dinner.

I open the door… and quietly return back into my home.