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Jim Meirose

At Jesse Owens’ Grave

Les Coureurs by Robert Delaunay

Furman Villanova stood at the grave with his twelve-year-old daughter, Kathy.  They silently stared at the stone for a while.  A mild breeze played about them.  The trees rustled quietly.  The cemetery stretched huge all about them.

This is the grave of a great man, Furman told Kathy, in a hushed voice.

—sand it’s all sand. Great man. Great man. Really, really great man—

Really? she said brightly. What did he do?

—sand it’s all sand. yeah what did he do, tell her what he did, what did he do—

He ran—fast. And he jumped far.

—running running—so tired of running—jumping, landing—so tired of both—sand it’s all sand you’ll see—

Furman tilted his head as Kathy asked him a question.

Do running and jumping make a great man?

—sand it’s all sand great man great man really. really great man sand it’s all sand—

Oh yes, said Furman, nodding—when the running and jumping are done in the Olympic Games.

—Olympic games—over the ocean—was never over the ocean before—it was exciting to be over the ocean in front of the roaring crowd at the stadium—look at the ground under your feet, it’s Germany—how weird how weird how weird it’s Germany—but sand it’s all sand it’s all about sand—

And what makes the Olympic Games so special?

Furman’s voice grew solemn.

The best runners and jumpers in the world compete and the winners are awarded medals. It is a great honour—

—it’s all sand it’s all sand right a great honour, a great honour, to be given the medals is a great honour but the sand just slips through your fingers so you might as well never be given any sand—

Did this man win medals? she asked softly.

—huh.  What a question—in the end it’s all sand—

Yes—four of them.

—sand that’s right that’s right four of them right in front of Hitler and the Aryan hordes sand more sand it’s all sand—

She looked at him quizzically.

If I learn to run and jump well could I win medals?

—anybody can win medals if they put their mind to it [sand it’s all sand] given they’ve got arms and legs and a reasonable frame that can be made to carry a grand, lean, muscular physique and strong hands to clutch the fistfuls of sand—

Yes, he said gravely—but you’d have to practice for several hours each day, for years, to get to be good enough to compete in the Olympic games.

—what he said—sand sand sand—

She looked away from the gravestone and up to him.

For all those years of practicing and winning, she said, all you get is a medal if you win?

—yes all you get is a medal if you win but that medal means something it’s a big deal to get one of those medals let alone four—but in the end it’s all sand—

Furman laid a finger beside his cheek.

Well—you get some money too.

—yes they give you money but not a lot of money; money is the root of all evil they say so they wouldn’t want to give you too much of the stuff—it’s just sand after all—

She looked back at the gravestone.

A lot of money?

—because it will corrupt you yes it will corrupt you while you’re alive the way death stops everything and corrupts you too sand the sand the sand—

He nodded.

Sure—thousands of dollars.

—so a couple of thousand dollars is nothing it goes through your hand like a handful of sand drains through your fingers—see it’s all sand—

How many thousands?

I think twenty-five. Or something like that.

—and the sand falls to the ground and merges with the dirt on the ground and once you drop it you can’t really pick it up money is like that it’s just sand in the end—

Do you need to pay taxes on that money?

—after they take half the sand money from your fist before you even have a chance to drop it drop it first and they’ll come back later for their pound of flesh—

I’m sure you do.

—they come and force open your hand and the pile of sand is there and they scoop up half of it and it then falls through their fingers just like it does mine—it’s all the same—

Why are there taxes?

Furman spoke lightly with his head tilted at her.

Well, Kathy, I think you probably know why if you asked if the money was taxable. Are you playing with my mind?

Me? No. Honestly. Why are there taxes?

—it’s like the ground has come kind of magnetism and pulls the sand out from between your fingers and it works the same way for the government’s fist as it does for your fist—the fist the fist—the fist of sand drains—

Taxes support the government. The government is expensive.


There are thousands of government employees to pay.  And there are tons of other expenses.

—the ground pulls hard—the sand falls and the government’s hand is even looser than yours because they can always come back and say give me more taxes, but you can’t go back and say give me more prize money for my medals you can’t just say sand give me sand—

What kind of expenses?


The breeze picked up slightly.

—it’s over the ground it’s all spread over the ground it’s like a big, long wide field of sand that your sand falls into and disappears there’s no good answer to that question unfortunately—

No, I really want to know. What kind of expenses?

—a big well in the middle of the long wide dry field of sand like a great endless beach in all directions—

Furman waved a hand.

Upkeep and maintenance of all the government’s belongings, he said—buildings, grounds—need to be paid for.  And the Army and Navy and Air Force and Marines need to be paid for.

—each of those is a big wide well sucking sand down out of the field and they must keep the field full they will even make sand if they can’t force enough of it from your dry empty hands waiting for more awards and more money, but they don’t come—

Why do we need those things?

Lord God, Kathy, isn’t it obvious why we need those things?

Not really.

—more honours don’t come and nobody ever again hands you that handful of sand you got to work for it scoop it up go to work scrape your fingers raw—

We need to maintain a strong Army and Navy, and all that, to prevent war—now I suppose you’re going to ask what war is.

She raised a hand and looked him in the face.

No—I was going to ask how all those things prevent war. I know what war is.

—there was a war after the Olympics everybody had big armies and navies and there was still a war what do you mean those things prevent war I know what war is too war is just another step toward the merging of the individual long wide fields of sand into one great field of sand that covers the earth—

The trees rustled above.



Come on. Let’s go. Did you say a prayer for Jesse Owens? We need to say a prayer before we go.

—yes under the field of sand is where you end up needing prayer needing needing always needing but the needing stops after they plant you in the ground and they stop asking you for more of your sand too there’s something to be said for it—

And why is that?


—bah! Prayer is not needed for those that are made wealthy by needing and having nothing for the governments to take no sand no more sand empty hands—

What—why can’t you answer any of my questions?

I answered your questions.

—there are no answers only sand—sand on top of sand burying us all—

Not all of them.

Well, the answers are complicated.

Why do the answers have to be complicated?

It’s because the whole universe is complicated.

—no no no there’s nothing complicated about outside the great fields of sand there is nothingness chaos hot and cold places with no life no sand—

That’s a valuable fact, she said.

I know.

—I have no life no sand in this dry place of nothing. That’s what death is Olympics or no Olympics we all end up in the same bone dry cold hot place—

There being no retort from Kathy this time, Furman breathed easier again—though he suddenly was dying to ask Kathy what she thought a war was—but they just peered intently at the gravestone of Jesse Owens for a little while longer in silence, then left for home.

—good bye.


About the author:
Jim Meirose short works have been published on O:JA&L several times as well as in numerous other venues. His novels include Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer(Optional Books), Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF), Le Overgivers au Club de la Résurrection (Mannequin Haus), and No and Maybe – Maybe and No (Pski’s Porch).

Image: Les Coureurs by Robert Delaunay (1885-1941). Oil on canvas. 44 ½ x 57 ¼ inches. 1930. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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