The best of the best from the Gray’s poetry archives.
Poetry is a little like ballet and barbecue: When good, it is exquisite; but when bad, it’s likely to turn your stomach. Among the more than 750 unsolicited manuscripts we receive every year, there is plenty of earnest but ultimately awkward or underdone verse. So our job has always been to fan away smoke from fire and look for hot embers in the ash. Yet even with what at times feels like a ruthless dispensing of rejection letters, we still end up with far more outstanding poems than we can publish. What appears on our back page each issue is only a sampling, for all true sportsmen are, at heart, poetic—moved not by how the world is, but how we feel it ought to be. Here, then, are a few beats of America’s sporting pulse.
The Joy of Running
by Gregory Lobas
For one blessed moment I beheld the old man again in his youth.
Was it the nearness of the sun, newly risen above the encircling peaks,
which soothed the aches that held him trail-bound these last years?
Or did the spritz of the morning’s dew restore his vigor,
each diamond droplet reflecting the daystar
until cast airborne in glistening cascades at his passing?
Perhaps it was the favorable tilt of the land that gave him a gentle assist.
Full of himself, he quartered again, bounding here, now there, spaniel ears flapping
like wings in the stratosphere above clouds of meadow grasses.
His simple mind, sufficient for our task, returned to the days when pheasant scent
thrilled eager, grasping nostrils.
He was never haughty in his strength,
but did rejoice in the power he held over lesser creatures,
to send them to flight by his very presence.
Wingbeats erupting from prairie grasses
were always a shock to me, never to him.
I missed more than my share of those cock birds,
but whenever he brought me a feathered jester,
he leaned against me panting,
pressing his body heat into mine that I might partake of such unrelenting joy.
Did he know that today the nearest pheasant was a hundred miles away,
and, if knowing, did he care?
He ran as if a bird might explode, cackling its disturbance at any moment.
And, carrying no gun, I ran with him, just to be near his energy again.
I ran to feel the pounding in my boots, the pounding in my knees, my hips.
I ran like a dog until the pounding filled my chest, and shards of ice pierced my lungs,
forcing me to concede.
I wondered if we might both lie down among the tender blades forever,
this one last hunt,
a shock to me, all in a day’s work to him.
We finished at a walking pace, the old man and I, him trailing behind,
tongue lolling from his canine grin.
Did he know that neither the ascending sun, nor cascades of morning dew,
nor even the tilt of the Earth could offer dispensation from the fleeting nature of
and, if knowing, did he care?
by R. H. Miller
On the road from Balmaceda to Coyhaique
a giant condor, a stealth bomber
in slow motion, soars beneath
the mountain spires, reaching
through the eerie mist.
Below in the pasture, ibises vie
for ownership of the meadow with
cacophonous lapwings that posture
and strut among the grasses An occasional caracara floats
through the air on the lookout
for unsuspecting prey.
On the upland plain,
reddish deep-muscled cattle look
with suspicion at us
in our fishing gear and wonder
what strange creatures we are,
as weathered gauchos on horseback
herd them up and move them
down a dusty trail.
We float a broad, tumbling river
and catch plump, silvery trout
almost too big for our landing nets.
The river cuts through
a steep-sided canyon, where
there is no escape but down
that same water roaring through it.
On a shingle close up against
the canyon wall, a lone sheep stands
bleating its plea to be rescued.
But there is nothing we can do,
for we are caught on a river
of no regard, as we buck
and lurch helplessly on.
Gin Berry Blue
by John Quinn
Time is past caring what you do.
What you’ve done is important only to you
glinting distantly through ancient blue glass,
the curling smoke of good cigars,
the stinging smoke of greenwood fires.
Your grandchildren don’t care
that you knelt in silent prayer
beside a gnarly incense juniper
high above a gin berry blue canyon,
or that it still didn’t snow
and the elk still didn’t come.
So, build a platform in a sturdy tree,
climb up and wait there patiently
as your ancestors did, tattooed blue,
hunting heads. You’re still hunting heads.
Count your bullets, sharpen your arrows,
then silently pray or quietly laugh.
Yes, that’s it: pray and laugh,
because time is past caring what you do,
or which hunt may mark your epitaph.
Soup and Bread
by Z. G. Tomaszewski
Whittled antler spike in hand the hike begins,
setting out to check the hare traps, and
of the dozen set only a quarter caught,
Then, its spirit leaps as the knife
tears the stitches of soft skin.
One foot hacked off for good fortune,
the rest for the soup, and a pelt
to welcome the clan’s newborn.
A snakeskin along with several pike heads,
breaking salt into milk
to simmer until dusk.
Meanwhile, the oven wood-fired and loafing.
I recall the broth of the bone soup
my people labored over:
first the waiting, then the hunting,
and again the waiting
before the arrow—bowstring
let forth Orion’s light
cleaving through the distance,
cutting darkness with its own darkness,
a diamond of stars parting airwaves
like the hull of a boat—like tumblehome.
The arrow knows. The deer pulse
punctuated. The arrowhead
sharp with its dying vibrations.
The deer skinned and used as mittens, as vest,
its meat taken in and bones
given to the broth.
I look out
fathoms past the bay.
I rise up inside
watching mountains climb
the far plain, and a ferry, like bone cutting water,
cross the sound,
a family reflected in the spray and the self
tumbling home, spoon in hand.