The Wall

Second Prize, New Ohio Review Poetry Contest selected by Robert Pinsky

By Christopher Kempf

Featured Art: Ruins of an Ancient City by John Martin

At mile twenty, roughly, the muscles
of the legs will collapse. Calves
twitching at random. The hamstrings’
sacked meat seizing. Scarry,
in The Body in Pain, explains
that language too, tasked
with conveying affliction, fails. That pain,
she argues, obliterates
discourse. I limped
past the drunk undergrads
of Boston College, my body’s stock-
pile of glycogen finally
exhausted. The wall, runners
call it. The bonk. The blowing
up. & after,
the body in pain will make
of its own fat fuel. I followed
the shimmering column of runners right
onto Boylston Street. In three
hours two
coinciding explosions would themselves
leave the city—except
for its sirens—speechless. The limes, Latin
for boundary line, signified
to ancient Romans the most remote
walls of the sacred Empire. Lie-
Arabicus for instance.

The legions
Caesar trusted most though & therefore
dreaded, he kept
stationed on the Plain of Mars a mile only
west from the city walls. He watched
from the seventh hill the drilling
columns, consulted
each morning in the sky above him
the wheeling birds. A body,
he knew well, will
at sometime or other, hungry
for blood, break
in on itself & eat.

Christopher Kempf is the author of WHAT THOUGH THE FIELD BE LOST (LSU, 2021) and LATE IN THE EMPIRE OF MEN (Four Way, 2017). He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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