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By Stephen Dunn

This time I came to the starting place

with my best running shoes, and pure speed

held back for the finish, came with only love

of the clock and the underfooting

and the other runners. Each of us would

be testing excellence and endurance


in the other, though in the past I’d often

veer off to follow some feral distraction

down a side path, allowing myself

to pursue something odd or beautiful,

becoming acquainted with a few of the ways

not to blame myself for failing to succeed.


I had come to believe what’s beautiful

had more to do with daring

to take yourself seriously, to stay

the course, whatever the course might be.

The person in front seemed ready to fade,

his long, graceful stride shortening


as I came up along his side. I was sure now

I’d at least exceed my best time.

But the man with the famous final kick

already had begun his move. Beautiful, I heard

a spectator say, as if something inevitable

about to come from nowhere was again on its way.


Source: Poetry (June 2015)

  • Activities
  • Living

Poet Bio

Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn came into national prominence when his eleventh book, Different Hours, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. Born in Forest Hills, New York, Dunn took a degree from Hofstra University in History and English in 1962 and was a key player on the school’s greatest-ever basketball team; he later earned a MA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. His accessible work conveys its insights through quiet reflections on everyday events and central human dilemmas. See More By This Poet

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