Not His Pamplona | Adam Berlin

Photo Credit: Erin Parker

Photo Credit: Erin Parker

The wooden planks are new,
blond wood bordering cobblestone sidewalks,
stone buildings marking the run.
Even the name sounds old,
this Spanish city
made famous by Hemingway’s words.

It wasn’t his history.
He didn’t run. He watched.
And Jake Barnes watched.
His balls were gone by then.
Just a character,
but they’re never just characters.

Under the bullring, the statue of Papa
looks toward the plaza where men drink
and tell exaggerated stories, beer-muscled
fables of younger days when they were
contenders, but never really were.

Around the bronzed Hemingway head
someone has tied a bandana.
Red. The color of Pamplona. And bull
blood. Toro blood.

But before the slaughter,
the bulls run.
The shot echoes from far away.
The chute opens.
Runners, bulls, oxen,
rolled-up newspapers swatting
flanks, skidding hooves,
wild eyes, red and white.

At the ring’s entrance,
they shoot forward like
a pouch too full,
then pressed, pressure spouting
flesh and hide out.

The runners are elated.
Grinning because they dared
and lived.
The giddiness of after-battle.

Adam Berlin has written two novels—Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press) and Headlock (Algonquin Books)—as well as numerous stories and poems.  His novel The Number of Missing about post 9/11 New York is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil press in 2013, and his short novel Both Members of the Club, which won the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize, is forthcoming in 2013.  He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and co-edits J Journal: New Writing on Justice.  For more, please visit

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