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, obdurate, 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.