November Poetry: “Self-Portrait with Steve Prefontaine” by Christian Detisch

Curated as part of the Adoptee Poetry Folio by Guest Editor Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
November 9, 2017

This November, to recognize and honor National Adoption Awareness Month, I've invited adoptee poet Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello to curate a folio of poems by 10 Asian American adoptees. This page features Christian Detisch's “Self-Portrait with Steve Prefontaine." I invite you to take a moment to read her moving introduction to the folio here, as well as the other nine poems in this collection.

— Eugenia Leigh, Poetry Editor

Self-Portrait with Steve Prefontaine

            Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints.
            I like to make something beautiful when I run … It’s being creative.

                                    —Steve Prefontaine

Eternal Workhorse, I thought
of you again today, the third
full month of my quads softening
like butter, your lips & chin
ensanguined as you coughed,
wheezed, waved to your fans
at Hayward Field behind the course
smoke blanketing the stadium:
farmers clearing fields of old &
dying grass. Someone may beat me,
you said, but they are going to have
to bleed to do it,
& at fourteen I
loved your arrogance. My last high
school race, in those interminable
middle laps Coach Joe yelled
Run like Pre, & surely not then
in the white haze of oxygen debt
but shortly after I thought of you
saying Talent is a myth. How
American of you, O Master Grinder:
that work alone could bring you
victory against genetics, blood
doping, fate: the royal blue cross
of Finland on Lasse Viren’s chest
as you trade the lead in the final
laps, Munich, 1972. 20 meters
& you are passed the final time.
No one will ever win a 5000 meter race
by running an easy 2 miles.
Not against me.
O Master, Impatient One, those
Sunday morning long runs ending
at the cemetery I learned this sport’s
arithmetic: addition as subtraction,
the body’s confrontation against
time, lactic acid, fear. O Master,
sit down with me today as I tie
my shoes, remind me that the only
question running asks is a question
of the self: each lap I leave unfinished
will not hide from me as I from it,
that any lazy line I write exacts
its cost — to give anything less than
your best
, you chide, is to sacrifice
the gift
. O Master, teach me
to scorch the dead & dying grass
within my heart, its leeching
detritus. The way to love
the taste of my own blood.


This piece was published as part of the November Adoptee Literature Folio. To see other works from the folio, please visit the table of contents here.


Christian Detisch

Christian Detisch's poems and essays have appeared in Blackbird, Image, The Academy of American Poets website and elsewhere. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University and lives with his fiancée in New Haven, CT.