Friday, May 09, 2014

Coach Jim (Tracy)

What do you say,
Crusty old Jim
With your rattlesnake kick
And your broad-beaming wits?
Do you still ask,
Where you are now,
How you were chosen to inspire
Daughters and sons of privilege to a higher power?

Who gave you light,
Carnival Jim 
In your never-lost years'
Wanders upon midways and roads?
Was your living that way,
Seeking something shining among barkers and cons,
Packing up sorrows like gypsies at dawn,
Another form of honesty and devotion?

Oh, injuries!
Oh, solitudes!
Oh, the pains of grasping 
Answers that can't be found alone.
You've got to laugh. You've got to cry.
You've got to wonder how many times you musr try.
Saint Dominic's preview of monuments past Druids'
Another strained  Achilles keeping you from the race.

Well, like we say,
Funny old Jim,
With your Father Pat voice
Advising Jimmy Cagney to go straight,
Chances arise 'round unforeseen corners.
You got the job--a kind-of job--
Coaching th├Ęse University High kids
In Cross-Country.

They don't know anything
About geeks or tricks or a can of beans for supper.
Yet they do want
To excel, just like you.
They do want something more
Than can be taken through screens.
They're like teen-agers anywhere--
They want proofs of themselves.

Alright, then, let's drill down!
Oh, Jim is tough!
Oh my God, his work-outs!
How he stands there, frowning, with his stop-watch?
'This is a stopwatch, not a sun-dial."
But he's always there, isn't he?
In the rain--in the dawn--and after dark.
He's always trying to improve your form.

To advance in distance-running
Is to explore, accept and control pain.
The team goes out every day. You do the work-outs.
You do the hill-repeats. You do fartleks 
Through mud and slippery eucalyptus in the Presidio. 
You do tempo without slacking from the per-minute pace.
You do--oh my God and let-us-bear-this-cross Jesus Christ!--
24 400's with one minute's rest between each.

You collapse on the infield. 
Sun-spots dot your sight.
You dig deep into darkness
So you can race with light.

Races are proofs 
Of what you and the team can do.
Races are meant to be more than you've done before.
You have to push from "Go!"
Your pace must match your goal. 
Your breathing grows heavy
Even as from adrenaline your footsteps spring.
Your breathing becomes steady gasps,
Shallow as you can make it, posture upright too,
Eyes alert with focus 
Down the road, round the course and track,
Even as lactic acid builds up in your legs.
Oh, that bear--that lactic acid
Surely knotting up in your thighs, 
Fatigue carrying into arms and back--
That bear will come if you put out effort
Like Jim wants you to do!
Still you must push--
You must keep legs and arms going
While you still keep your form--
Another lap--one more quarter-
Mile--then another--another--
Another--count them, hold something
Left for the finish--breaths panting
Now, chest heaving now, mind
Screaming "Stop! Stop this pain
Now!" even as Jim shouts
"Relax!" Relax? Is he crazy?
"Relax and dig in! You've got one quarter to go!
Kick! Lift! Lift! Kick! Legs straight! Form! Form!"
And you do! In that state 
Of agony reaching for ecstasy,
All naked, all out there, all on the line,
Before friends, family, strangers,
You do keep going, You do "Kick!" 
You do "Kick! Lift! Form!" Even if
Your form falls onto hands and knees,
You like the sickest, blind, dehydrated dog,
Puddle of guts in human "Form!"
Across the Finish line.

Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid, Saint Cyrian
And all Twelve Irish Mystic Apostles
Understood what faith is to gain.
You needn't be pushy. You needn't proselytize.
You show who you are because you sleep in your car.
Your faith is to honor utmost sacrifice--
Give what you can--
Without foo-faw, without fanfare,
Without gilded steeple, wafers and wine.
When fate adds more weight to your faith
You must shoulder that too.
Crusty old Jim, funny old Jim,
You must wonder at your being given 
Great Lou Gehrig's disease,
This unconquerable failing
Somehow thrown into the spotlight you've won.
Yet the Shadow adds too. 
That your legs and arms fail is beyond irony.
That the only means you're ever had for certain freedom,
Your body's power to go for a run,
Is going--going--gone must be some kind of lesson  
That's beyond irony.
Those legs, so prone to injuries 
That precluded will from glory
Despite your pre-race supper of hamburger-and-fries,
Ache so much now. 
They actually start to buckle,
To go out under you even when you're walking,
You have to gimp up the ramp to the track.
You need a wheelchair, the last years you feel,
And you start to lose your aim and grip
Even in that damned wonder-working wheelchair.
You flail a little and a little more and then--
Still you're there, with stopwatch, clipboard, and Kevin,
By the track and trails, with the latest bunch of kids
From University, and you bark and encourage them
And you love them as best you can, right till the end.

The light at the end
Of a hard life's road
Opens wide and bright
As the rise to dawn.

It's such a relief
From pains of one's will.
You see your past whole
And see what is good.

See, death is nothing
But close of travails,
And life 's still ahead,
New vessels of deeds.

Don Paul, May 7, 2014

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

quite the poet and quite the man. Thanks.

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