Editor’s Note: Sharon McCartney’s poem “Deadlift” has been selected for Best Canadian Poetry 2013 by editors Molly Peacock and Sue Goyette.
Sharon McCartney‘s last contribution to Numéro Cinq was reprinted in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 and now she looks for a repeat with a stunning poetic sequence that makes a metaphor out of weightlifting and love. I thought of a lot of puns I could use in this introduction: Sharon McCartney’s poems are muscular, explosive, sinewy, lean — but then I thought, Stop. These are beautiful touching poems replete with incisive perceptions about the relationship of love and pain, about the struggle of life. The Greeks called it agon. The Greeks saw no distinction between athleticism, art, philosophy, politics and love. They didn’t compartmentalize the way we do. Sharon tries here to reconnect art, emotion and the body.
I have only one small personal comment. Would you LOOK at how much weight that girl is lifting! Go, Sharon!
As in love, it’s important to loosen the grip,
not to resist, to harden into clumsy condemnation.
If you think too much, you’ll stiffen and trip.
Flicking the silver cable faster, through two
revolutions rather than one. Forget the details.
Banish pedestrian mores. Embrace the higher
leap beyond petrification to delimitation, forgiving
the forgiveable, his petty flirtations. Outpace the
orderly, grasping mind. Allow the larger rhythms,
spontaneity, to flow. We’re liquid after all, flux,
especially now, this escalation roping a blue Nile
of salt-licked sweat from my candescent brow.
Lift that dead weight, my sister’s suffering,
the abominable pain of a teenager’s cancer,
how she longed to die, lobbing obsolete toys
at the obsidian-flowered bedroom walls, her
knobby fists on the chic white shag, and me,
ten years her junior, five or six, witnessing
the recurrent melees, squad cars in the driveway,
sedative syringes, a night ambulance strobing
the red windows. Our stone-faced mother so
calm under her beehive. An obligatory facade.
Lift my father sobbing beside the green Chevy,
not so much raising the plates as pushing the
floor away, slowly, patiently, shoulders slung
back, chest up. The pity, my mother’s burden,
a grief so poisonous it had to remain hidden.
How hard it is even now to forgive my sister.
Once called the “health lift,” hitting the glutes,
hamstrings, quads and core. Lock out tight
and straight at the top, loopy-eyed, vertiginous,
every cell in your body about to pop and
then drop the bar, a cold cadaver clattering.
Rest and Recovery
Fatigue disguises itself as need, saying work harder,
don’t give in. An intramuscular discontent, achiness,
disrupted slumber, eyes wide at 3 a.m., that brittle,
burnt, racing-pulse aftermath of excess adrenalin.
What is it in us that resists what we ultimately
require? The overtired infant startles awake,
wailing, after just two hours. My sad friend,
whose marriage implodes, is online instantly
Reaching the furthest for what
we need the least. The closer I cleaved to him,
the lonelier I became. More squats and deeper,
more intervals and faster, until something
fractures, a scapula, a heart.
The bicep’s the starlet, pouty sex-pot, Bardot
or Loren lounging in limousines, but if colossal
arms are what you want, the tricep’s your man,
tuxedo-clad, blasé, smoking behind a pillar.
The larger of the two muscles, yet elusive,
easily over-looked, downstage, its horseshoe
cocked out of sight. To work it, think backwards.
Push, not pull. A subtle, focussed movement,
lacking the curl’s sideshow bombast. Or lie
on the bench, face up, a dumbbell socketed in
your palm, elbow raised, and lower the weight
to your brow, the tricep dragging. It’s your stay,
your guy wire, invisible block and tackle that
snags the heft, preserving your skull. Painful,
yes, and vaguely frightening, yet worthwhile,
like unveiling a shadow, the televangelist’s
sordid sex habits, the financier’s Ponzi scheme.
Behind the bicep’s facile he doesn’t love me
lurks the tricep’s harder truth: I don’t love him.
150 Smith machine squats over an hour, sets of 10,
alternating with biceps and triceps, not too much
weight, but as low as possible on the declension,
and, on the upthrust, envisioning Atlas, Pythagoras,
even that pea pod in grade 8 science, how it shoved
the crust of loam aside as it unfurled. Stiff-legged
deadlifts. Walking lunges with 15 lb. dumbbells,
spine erect, each bruised knee smacking the floor.
Hamstring curls, the glute machine’s equine kick-
back, finishing it off with the lying bridge, a 30 lb.
plate on my hips, lifted and held to a count of 20,
10 times, 2 sets, the goal being overload, quaking,
tearing and scarring, and, in the end (pardon me),
an ass like rock, monolithic, enduring as hatred,
that unseen core of silence that remains unswayed,
undeceived, beyond hypocrisy or triviality. The
unshaken ground beneath me, the darkness that I
fall back on, the depth that elevates, propels me
through the salt-dappled double doors of the 24/7
gym into the light and strength of each damned day.
— Sharon McCartney
Sharon McCartney is the author of For and Against (2010, Goose Lane Editions), The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2007, Nightwood Editions), Karenin Sings the Blues (2003, Goose Lane Editions) and Under the Abdominal Wall (1999, Anvil Press). In 2008, she received the Acorn/Plantos People’s Prize for poetry for The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her poem, “Katahdin,” which appeared in Numéro Cinq in July 2011 was selected to appear in The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 (Tightrope Books). These poems are from a new book to be published in the Spring of 2013 by Palimpsest Press.
The pictures are all courtesy of the good people at Crossfit Fredericton.