November Run

and now you hang on my shoulder / as I lead the way, taking you on, pressing the pace

A portrait of poet Richard Sanger

For Harold Hoefle

I read your letter, Harold,
as one nurse describes her new dessert
—Rice Krispie Squares, peanut butter, chocolate—
to another who hooks me up to my IV drip,
and I want nothing more than to go
for a run with you, as wild
and muddy and unpredictable
as your letter, a long November run
to commemorate the races we never ran
against each other, the OFSAAs we never placed;
I want to head off hanging on your shoulder
—light footed, loose limbed, easy breathing—
as you lead the way along the gravel shoulder
of the highway out of town, past the 7-Eleven,
the gas station, the monster homes,
then cut off down a path into the woods
and up whatever kind of hills you have
in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, or pastures
overgrown with sumac, I suppose,
or maybe we’d go for a run in the Gatineau,
why not, hell, up and down those ski trails,
over branches and rocks and puddles and streams,
when there are still a few leaves
left on the hardwoods and also perhaps
a few precocious snowflakes in the air
appearing like overkeen students
to try their luck and melt on contact
as our cheeks and thighs redden;
and now you hang on my shoulder
as I lead the way, taking you on, pressing the pace
until we fall into a rhythm, brisk, mechanical,
each of our bodies telling the other’s
I can do this all I want, I can cream you,
our bones and sinews making themselves known,
shedding all superfluous weight and thought,
as we run those Gatineau trails and this steep slope,
and I attack, putting my forehead into it,
pumping my arms, thinking now I can do it,
administer the coup de grâce,
and leave you in the dust. . . . No such luck.
At the crest, you’re still with me, surprise,
and so we head back, lungs panting, thighs aching,
letting our legs freewheel as fast as they can,
you ahead of me, or me ahead of you,
breathing down my neck, laughing,
ready to pick me off and whoosh past
to the chalet, where there’ll be showers and beer,
some women who’ll understand our jokes,
who’ll “ooh” and “ahh” over our mud-spattered calves,
and tell us we’re full of shit, if necessary,
and a roaring fire to get roaring drunk beside
as we proceed to purify the dialect of the tribe
and forge in the exuberance of our talk
the only lightly embellished story of our race.

Richard Sanger
A playwright, translator, teacher, and poet, Richard Sanger died on September 12, 2022, at the age of sixty-two. His most recent book of poetry is Fathers at Hockey.