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Sport 42: 2014

Sarah Jane Barnett — Running with My Father

page 190

Sarah Jane Barnett

Running with My Father

When I run I am an animal
circling the hollows of my body. Deep grunts
         rise up from my pelvis to my throat. The bones
of my spine strike up into each other. On the trails
this morning the sunlight falls everywhere,
         and I propel away from the ground. It’s winter
so the trees are undressed
as I am undressed of my husband and our son,
whom I’ve left in a steamy house, noise
         from the kitchen, the rumbles
of the new train set.
         It’s running away from, or running into
      Otari Bush, into the metronomic push of my breath,
      into the body’s slippery valves and caves
         into the stomach and sex organs
         into the hand which is not quite a fist
         and into this poem which I decide
will not be about my father, who is still not dead
and therefore inhabits
hope in my imagination.
Hope the phonics drop from the tongue
and I throw my body into the run
so I cannot hear the hush of my shoes
hitting the compacted earth of the track
like a child’s back.

When I run both feet lift from the ground,
which is called a double float, and I wonder
         if forgiveness also involves a suspension
of the body, a move into someone else’s body.
page 191 This might describe running: I leave at sunrise.
The trees fill with light and they’re gone.
A woman leans into a bus stop
         and she’s gone. The houses scattered along
      Wilton Hill begin to light up like motor neurons.
Their beacons follow me into the valley.
                     This might describe running: I am a lashed
      horse with a foaming bit. I am a sled dog
pulling my body behind me.
      At the crest of the hill my tongue
            whips the dry membrane of my lips.
      Momentum and work. Words my joints move through,
            data points in a dialogue of impact and velocity.
      Stop thinking. The body will fragment
      into stride phases: a foot strike with low
      breaking force, and I attract load
      so propulsion starts; my chest heaves.
      Mountains grow. The recovery cycle begins.

After my father had his prostate removed
my mother asked me to call him, his voice tired
and ashamed. We talked of my son,
of academic life, their garden and building work
in Christchurch; of his students who could try harder,
and of running. That morning I’d run around
the waterfront, the bays stretching out and glistening
like a body. It had been a perfect run. The harbour
flat and still. The city at the markets. The concrete
glittered with crushed silica as it moved away.

Just before we hung up my father talked
of the pelvic floor exercises he was trying to master.
You could give me tips, he said,
before remembering the resolute biology
of our bodies. We stepped into silence.
He stepped into his study. I stepped into the long
brown hallway of my childhood.
page 192 Maybe this is forgiveness: I see my father step back
to the morning. She has showered and the house
smells of lilacs. She cannot look at his body in the mirror,
its folds on folds. She puts herself into men’s jeans
and a shirt; into thick soled black lace-ups. He must go to work,
into the grey brutalism of the university, into his office.
He knots a bright scarf at his throat.


Long exhale rhyme working into the cords of the body disorder the wind draws away words the hard push up the hill past the church work arms swing almost like wings when O run everything stretches away I become a horizon a habit in habit inhabit the breath enter the breath the nerves supply the mucosal skin stretch dilate surgical force high buttock turnover length and speed talk with the hips talk with loose arms lean bend angle the back face relaxed drive ball to foot bend under the body downswing the body midline the body caloric mileage measures efficiency compress tendons compress mathematical models of oxygen compress the body’s limbic system a biological chase mechanism flows along the nuchal ligament a short shock cord stretching into epiphany into a hunter traversing the wet ventricular chamber the thickening pumps into capillaries into cells into the self and into endorphins that swell the hippocampus turn the shoulder sway the hip hairless and upright the hunter’s legs a web of tendons draw light lean bones into a stick figure into a woman and into full stride.


I am nearing the end of Otari track
      when I remember being stuck in a lift
            with my father. I was four. The lift shuddered still
      and the doors half opened between two floors
            like the jaws of a guillotine.
                  This is where all memory gets hazy.
      I know I was wearing a brown check pinafore.
page 193       I know my father braced himself before lifting
me into the light of the Geography
      foyer. I must have watched my father haul and scramble
               himself free, but I can’t say
                  if I remember the event as he does:
      his trembling hands and cheeks,
      him bending to hold me.
                  I wonder, when he dies, if I will rest
in a place of judgement. He was a good father,
or he was my father, or he was the husband
of my mother, a person of small kindnesses; blues and greens—purple
flowers he dug in the garden; a son who once cried
for his mother at Christmas; who always bought
perfume for his wife. Today he is just my father
who has had his catheter tube removed
and must continue to rest. I know it is time
to turn for home. My husband will be dressing
our son and heating apples for our breakfast.
The mountain edges are sure this morning
in the slicing winter light, in the
sweeping grey of the valley.