The Red Wallet

Preparing for a half marathon, I obey
the training program. Day one, new year,
I was barely able to run 10 minutes.
For weeks and months, I give myself
to each day’s run, each day’s rest.

Today, the fourth of July, these things are true:
Four days ago, I turned fifty.
I am 20 pounds overweight.
For a runner’s body, let’s make that 30 pounds.
I’m not yet ready to run 13 miles.
There are five half-mile all-out runs to do this morning,
with two-minute breaks between.
It’s 6:30 am, and in this desert valley,
already over 90 degrees.

Here, in Papago Park, the day-off holiday crowd
has busy-bee swarmed up to the Hole in the Rock overlook.
Sitting in the shade, in a cave, in the cool cliff
they watch the climbing burn of the rising sun.
Below them, I run

half-mile dashes, starting, stopping, stumbling,
panting, frantic, idiotic speck of a bug
racing back and forth on a hot skillet, unable to escape.

Or maybe I appear as some sick and shaved
polar bear madly searching barren
ravines and hilltops for ice.

It’s a good workout.
I finish completely
spent, nauseous, mad
foam inside my lips.

These runs destroy me.
I find my limit, and the next day,
find a newer limit.
I’m in a series of middles, between being
unable to run ten minutes and
able to run thirteen miles with ease.

After this run, I climb myself to a nice view,
ease water into my dromedary belly,
and start this poem.

I breathe.

The next day
I put on my running shorts
and find my driver’s license

It’s nowhere in the usual places, and I realize
the card fell out between yesterday’s half-mile sprints,
while wiping my face with a rag from my pocket
the snagged license jumped and fled the trail.
My ID could be anywhere in the desert.

I decide I’ll retrace yesterday’s zig-zag runs
in hope it’s still out there. 

The park is empty today, everyone back at work.
As I pull into yesterday’s parking spot,
before I even get out of the car, I see it.
Not my ID, but somebody else’s
red wallet

next to a picnic table, glowing
in the sun like an ocotillo flowertop.
I walk over and pluck it.

Inside, a British driving licence.
In the official photo, a pale, dark-haired teen
stares seriously, a boy new to the role of adulthood.
He is nineteen years old. His name is Connor.
From Swansea, in Wales.

This young man’s life in my hands,
I scan the horizon for him,
for a park ranger, for anyone,
then laugh as the joke hits me.

This is why I’m out here every day,
running my self to nothing,
losing one identification, finding another.

Brian FlatgardComment