You Will Come Up Short — by Izzy Wasserstein

Almost every time.

You will run for 24 hours, run until your calves burn

and your feet are a ruin of blisters,

and reach your destination fifteen seconds late.

The sandbags you stack through the night

will not hold back the floods.

You will look at the rubble of your life.

You will come up short.

The future you work for will always be the future.

The war you rallied against, prayed against,

shouted against, screamed against–

the war you beat your bloody knuckles against

until your arms gave out–

the war will come. The men who started it will grin

over the ashpits of your despair.

You will come up short.

The walls you build around yourself will crack.

The poem you write will fail.

This poem will fail.

Your song of protest will not sway the President,

nor the mayor, nor the mayor’s dog.

You will pull apart your pockets seeking change,

and finding none, you will give up the milk, or the eggs, or the flour.

You will leave the tying run stranded at third base,

and they will laugh and celebrate their triumph

and hope you do not notice they were born there,

on third base, while you fought to take your first swing.

They want you to come up short

because of the color of your skin, or the dirt

caked to your palms, or the shape of your genitals

or the self you need yourself to be,

or whom you love or lust after,

because you do not sound like them,

because you were born elsewhere

because you were born at all,

because you see their lies,

or because they hate everyone

but themselves, and maybe especially themselves,

and so they cannot stand to see you succeed.

They will leave landmines in your path,

and when they do not know your path,

they will leave landmines everywhere.

They will threaten what you love.

They will promise you a runner-up trophy

if only you stop now. They will take away the trophy

you earned, and if they cannot take it away

they will tell you it was never yours, or never existed,

or that they let you have it.

They will have you thinking since you first crawled

that your legs were theirs,

that your arms were useless to you.

They will cut your tendons.

They will tell you that you are safest if you are silent,

tell you to keep your head low

and your eyes on your folded hands.

They will offer you baubles

and tell you that you can only win

by joining them

and then they will place you in the stands,

far, far up, so you may cheer their triumph with your bloody mouth,

they will tell you that you can be one of them

if only you put the hammer down,

if only you take up their flag

and their knives

and put them to use.

You will come up short.

They are counting on it.

They have built the world to ensure it.

Almost every time, you will look back and see the long line

of failures and their way will seem appealing, so much easier.

Just put the hammer down,

they will say.

And then you will see the fear lodged back far behind their eyes,

the pulsing fear, the fear that is a mechanical fist, always constricting,

and the only way they can loosen it

is to make it grasp you.

And you will know you do not need their fist.

You will come up short.

The blow you strike with all your strength

will not split open the bars.

The alarms will shriek contempt, the hammer will drop

from your hands.

Look at it closely. See the way the grip

was molded for your dirty palm. The edge is chipped

but it is strong. The callouses you have earned

serve you now. Reach down.

The hammer is as heavy as it needs to be.

It was made for you.

Strike again.

~ Izzy Wasserstein

Izzy Wasserstein is a Lecturer in English at Washburn University. Izzy is the author of the poetry collection This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, and has published in Crab Orchard Review, Flint Hills Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Izzy shares a home with Nora E. Derrington, a cat, and three dogs, and believes in the power of resistance.

Guest editor bio: Annette Hope Billings is an author/actor whose published works include a collection of poetry, A Net Full of Hope, and a collection of affirmations, Descants for a Daughter. Her poetry, prose, and short stories have appeared in a number of publications. She resides within the delights of being mother to one, grandmother to two and friend to many in her village of Topeka.


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