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The Marathon

by Robert E. Petras

You never know when a metaphor
will drop upon you
like the race that was supposed
to be a marathon
except the finish line
isn't 26.2 miles ahead
rather the time behind
measured each day you survive,
a race of one step, one day,
one milestone at a time.
After 500 miles of running,
after 100 hours in the gym,
I was standing at the starting line
for a marathon at Disney World,
the happiest place on the planet,
after five days learning I had cancer-
renal clear cell carcinoma-
a mouthful of alliteration
hard to swallow.
So I swallowed ibuprophen
and ran through the Magic Kingdom
through Hollywood Studios
through Downtown Disney,
through Animal Kingdom and Epcot
alongside runners dressed
like Mickey and Minnie Mouse
like Donald Duck and Goofy
alongside cancer survivors,
the back of one's T-shirt reading:
"If you think a marathon is tough
try chemotherapy."
Each breath taken
each stride planted
I never felt so alive,
the aches in the knees and hips-
benevolent pains-trophies
for having lived to middle age,
every stride taking
me nearer to the finish line,
every breath taking me further
from the unplanned finish,
one step, one day, one milestone at a time.

Robert E. Petras's poem, "The Marathon," was inspired by running in his first marathon, learning only five days earlier he had kidney cancer. He finished that race and continues to run and play tennis today as a six-year cancer survivor. His poems and short fiction have appeared in more than 100 publications, most recently in Heyday Magazine, and American Juice Speech Bubble Magazine.