Facing the Bar

Fingers to the unknurled rings, the gnarled

paddings of my palms press the steely bar,

the bar impressing skin, impressing me,

cold, chrome-hard steel, soon hot beneath my hands,

impassive, graven, obdurant, immune

to all intent, a last redoubt of fear.

Leaning in, I eye the steel horizon,

its shaft of shine and grime divides the world—

above, below, before, beyond—a line,

to hold and give direction to my course,

extending to the rack, the weights beyond

a darkling blur. Above the bar my face

is not the face that others ever see,

a backward mirror-image self of grim

resistance, the bravado of a glare,

its back to the reflected world, the gym,

meaningless machines moving with the groan

of human sweat. The heart within the heart

of my desire, between the skin and bones,

the muscles wait, their and my existence

in the balance of the fray, the struggle

to abide, persevere, and yet we dread

those micro-measures of the very thing

we fear, and hesitate, negotiate.

In charge again, I put the rebel flesh

within to rout, its own blind memory

betraying it, my need to feel the push

and pull of life birthing every second,

every heartbeat flood of heat, urgently

moves my body, me, to its position

beneath the weight. Hands and arms holding me

back like a bar-fighter's second, shoulders 

to extremis, face to face my other

self, I touch my bar-kiss callus to the

rod and lock us onto one another,

it to me, eyes locked each upon itself.

In preparation for the act, I suck

a grimaced breath, and pause only several

seconds, but, as time will have it, in this

moment an avalanche of thoughts insist,

like a mother's call, a teacher's set of

admonitions, an order from a cop:

first, don't think about these things that you must

think of, then forget that they have crossed your

mind, but do them, every one, even those

that you've forgotten, for in truth you must

forget them all to do them right, and trust

your mindless meat to know the moves to make,

swallow your complaints, don't rationalize,

don't think what else you could be doing or

what could be that you know will not, do not

let the pity-party start, or the road

to death will widen in the looming mist

and darkness will embrace you like a friend.

So I rise against the weight, extend my

angled legs, take it full upon my back

and feel the wave extending through my spine 

to heels, toes, depleted pads on soles.

Gravity, this force, this element of

nature, eternal, everywhere at once,

the unseen truth of its larger presence

like a colossal animal, glimpsed in

shadowy dreams, with crushing strength, yet staid,

silent, steady, sheltering us from its

immensity, holding all at distance,

a beautiful beast, the power of stars.

Seemingly without a mark or thought of

now the move begins as if my body

is alive without my mind, and pumping

blood from atria through aorta to

narrow veinal cataracts, I swell to

fullest girth, gut beneath my leather belt,

throbbing limbs and tense core still for a beat,

then release, resisting yet employing

gravity, as the slow descent ensues.

I observe myself—how the I of my

body reacts to what the I of my

mind is causing it to go through—I check

for pain—not psychic pain, the nauseous

whine of self pity, nor the petty pain

of opportunity cost, the time lost

not doing that mythical something else,

not even the pain of strain, of the dumb

unwillingness of selfish cells to stoke

the fires, my heart to pump, my diaphragm

to force air into soft, compliant lungs—

but the sharp ones, the deal-breakers, pain

that screams aloud that this is my last rep.

But that alarming signal does not come,

I continue the squat to the bottom—

the bounce, glutes and hammies, sacrum, coccyx,

spine encoiled—then the push, the explosion

I hoped to spark ignites and bones reverse

direction as my largest muscles work

as one to elevate the weight again,

a chain of flesh against the tidal force.

It's now as if the deed's already done.

Nothing left but the push, the rise, the hoist.

I monitor my feet: no heels, no toes

now, just mid-foot balance, steady pressure

telling of the focus of my motion

to the top—not foregone, but past the fear.

As the rote and rigid movement upward

ends in metal crashing when I rack it,

I think about the future and the past—

how things unfinished can again renew,

how voices yet unheard and places yet

untouched may now be just within my reach.

I may pick wild berries in the fall—

not with the bleeding avarice of youth,

when the metaphors were all erotic

and the seeds were something more than gritty

bits between my teeth, but slow and easy

down the lane, sharing, you and I, the fruits

of all the love we nurtured in our time.