“My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning.” – Pablo Neruda
I’ve been getting back into reading more poetry again. Part of the reason is because I’ve found that reading prose has become impossible, and at times unbearable, with the span of my attention ever shrinking. But the other reason is because I am at a point in my life where returning to basics has become an imperative, and great poetry, like weightlifting, has always been at the core of me, for better or ill.
Lately, the world has been clawing at my life, attempting to tear at its fragile flesh, and has for the most part been succeeding. I’m not unique here, we all face life in the same direction. And I know for every pound of flesh I lose I will regrow double that in its place. Until the day I fall into the void completely.
But I do want to point out the fact that when things get hard in a major way, it is not a bad idea to look deeper within yourself – at the flesh life can’t steal – and find there those things that have always been the best of who you are, still intact, patiently waiting for you to return to them.
For myself, among those things in the protected vault are a few great lines by a few great poets.
Why Poetry Sucks, Except When It’s Awesome
“Come, your answer in broken music; for thy voice is music and thy English broken; therefore, queen of all, Katharine, break thy mind to me in broken English; wilt thou have me?” – William Shakespeare, King Henry V
Poetry is like the wind. Most of the time, it just blows. But every once in a while it can be so powerful it lifts you up into the sky and then slams your ass back down onto the rock so hard that it kills you dead.
By this I mean that most poets are horrible, the worst kinds of writers writing the worst kinds of drivel. However, there is no writing on earth that compares to the best of what is written by the best poets. And this rare collection has always been remarkably important to me.
I am, after all, a true romantic. I believe in the power of the ephemeral, of love, of how words can steal your heart, and how a barbell can steal your soul. The unexplainable reality of intuition, probability, and love has never been in doubt. Sometimes you just get a feeling, one that is true and undeniable, and if you refuse it, you do so at your own peril.
Lamentations: My First Love Lost
“Now a soft kiss – Aye, by that kiss, I vow an endless bliss.” – John Keats
Twenty-four years ago I wrote my first love letter to my first love – only she was not a woman, and I was certainly not a man. I was a ten-year-old boy, but I wrote with the ferocity of a grown man longing for his grown woman. Years later, she found me and read them aloud while crying, and my shock was not only that she had bothered to keep these letters, but that she was still able to weep over them.
Her tears didn’t fall because my letters were so great, but rather because in spite of the clumsiness of a child attempting to capture the nature of something so far outside the scope of any of us, the attempt was made. That boy loved that girl enough to try.
Those letters were a reminder to us. A reminder of two children who were embarking on a long road that would lead to far greater love, far greater sorrow, and levels of complication that neither of us could have ever imagined back then when we were still hiding from her parents in her backyard trying to steal kisses in the grass.
The letters were a reminder of what was inside of both of us: a capacity for passion most people simply do not have. That capacity cannot be taken away. It is ours. We own it. And it will always be there for us when we need it most.
How Do You Explain Loving A Barbell?
“How far away the stars seem, and how far is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart.” – W. B. Yeats
Loving a woman is one thing. Writing to her because you are compelled to express the inexpressible passion she brings forth in you by simply being her beautiful self is the kind of thing you can discuss when it is late, and you are drinking, and your swooning gets the better of you.
But how do you, in polite society, explain that you are madly in love with a long cylindrical object designed to bring you pain? That, my friend, will raise eyebrows, breed indifference and, if you are lucky, get you laughed at.
And yet, I am in love with that damned barbell. Only four years after I wrote my first love letter, I lifted my first bar. I didn’t do much other than curl it, of course. But it moved and it moved me with it.
I can’t explain it, as the process of truly falling in love was organic and there was no singular moment I can look back upon and say, “Yes, that is moment I fell in love with lifting.” Instead, I just did. And it has been one of the only things in my life that I can trust will always be there and will never let me go.
It has a hold on me. And like any other kind of love, there are times when it seems totally ridiculous the things you are willing to do for it and endure for it. But that is all made reasonable when you are mired in your worst moments and you realize you can’t live without it, and that, thank God, you will never have to.
A Workout in Haiku
“Take away love, and our earth is a tomb.” – Robert Browning
Whenever I am in need, I slip back into a very simple routine that is not a routine, as such, but a workout I simply repeat as often as I can. It is basic, it works, and it reminds me of the reasons I fell in love with that damned barbell in the first place: because lifting heavy shit is fun.
- Behind the neck press to push press: sets of 8
- Squat (back or front): Sets of 3 to 5
- Pulls (snatch or clean): Sets of 1 to 3
I start with behind the neck press with the empty bar, and add a small amount of weight each set until it gets to the point where I have to push press it. If I feel feisty I will keep going up push pressing until I get bored or can’t make at least six reps. Or, I stop on the first set I need to push press. (Of course, you could do this in front of the neck just as well.)
Then I take a bit of a break, and start to squat. I choose front or back usually in rotation, or by mood. I don’t have a plan really; I just try to accumulate as many total reps as I can before deciding I’m done, which is determined totally by feel.
Finally, I finish with some pulls. I will do snatch or clean pulls usually, but about once a week I’ll do Romanian deadlifts for sets of five reps. When doing snatch or clean pulls, I rarely lower the weight under control, rather I just drop it. This cuts out the eccentric component – which is where much soreness comes from – and allows me to do them every day if I so choose.
The key is to not care. Your only goal is to be goalless. You are doing this to remind yourself of your love of heavy lifting without pressuring yourself, or the relationship, into being anything more than it can be at the moment.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.