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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