Holly M. Wendt
Holly M. Wendt is Assistant Professor of English at Lebanon ValleyCollegeand serves as the assistant fiction editor for Drunken Boat: an online journal of art and literature, and her prose has appeared in Memorious, Classical Magazine, and Gray’s Sporting Journal, among others. She is the recipient of writing fellowships from the Jentel Foundation and the American Antiquarian Society, and she is currently at work on a novel about pirates.
When you were in high school, they made you have one, made sure a gym like this would be safe and some days it felt safe and some days it didn't and it had nothing to do with that needle-sting in the arm, one staph infection, the rumors about scabies from the tinier room still where the school kept the wrestling mats. You grappled there once, skin-raw and silent and electrified, contracted nothing save burns on your knees, your shoulder blades. You did not get scabies. You were not on the wrestling team.
Your shoulder blades now ache nothing, pressed to the bench, and your thumbs measure out the place to grip and your tongue wets behind your teeth. You had a teacher who had lockjaw once, a woman you hated for making you feel stupid, only she wasn’t making you feel stupid, she was making you work. You know that now, though you often still feel stupid and you are always working, and work is fine, work has always been fine. You’re working now: it’s something the other men say, too, doing work, and they’re right because this is harder than anything else you do. Not the weight—it presses heavy into your rusty palms, descends toward your chest and you let it kiss your nipples, firm, enough to know the same on your throat would choke, might kill you if you let go, if your muscles give in, and God, it has always been this way. So you carry it away, all force until your elbows nearly lock, and nothing touches you.
Between classes, that teacher, as old as your grandmother, wore pads on her cheeks, connected to the current of some battery, on days the pain was worse. You understand electricity, have learned to send it safely through walls, but you don’t understand how that helped. You know you didn’t help: you were one of the ones to press a finger at the hinge of your own jaw, outside her classroom. Zzt. Laughter. She knew who you were, but she said nothing, and that boy who ran track and who played saxophone and whose tan stopped at uniform edges and whose afterschool mouth tasted like Gatorade and fear and your own, said nothing, too. He didn’t lift, though you heard his name in the gym, words oxidizing red and gray between your ears. You said nothing, only remembered the current, and promised yourself to stay as far away as you could.
But here you are, the bar heavier still, and when you lie back beneath it, it seems so far. You don’t even have to raise your head or ask; someone else steps in above your head. You don’t look up, not at his face, not at curved shine of his groin in basketball shorts. You wipe away sweat, let your tongue touch your own salted skin, the remnants of decaying metal. You take the bar. You lift it together, and he lets go, puts the weight all on you. As it presses down, you wonder if you’ve poisoned yourself. You wonder how you’d ever know.
The bamboo plant had to be moved outside, the soil springing insects, and though it’s called a friendship bamboo, the tiny flies aren’t friends and it’s not really bamboo at all, only looks like it, but the image replaces correctness on my tongue. It’s the bamboo, and we know there are types that grow fast enough to shoot through skin strapped too close, and we know there are types that will eat up every space it’s given and this little plant is even braided so, trained to stretch into a living wall, but it’s not really bamboo and it doesn’t grow with that force and the bugs wouldn’t go away. And so even though it was a gift I am trying not to feel bad about it, still in the pot, on the stoop, now half collapsed under snow and the snap of cold and still so green. The bugs were slower than fruit flies and easier to kill, stupid enough to drown in shower-dregs and smart enough to slip behind the vanity mirror, fluttering out when I reached in for tweezers, toothbrush, the brush for my hair that’s too short to even need one. We didn’t have this problem when there was no soil beneath, when the plant perched in riverstone that had never been in a river, when the roots grew thin and the leaves yellowed from their tips in. The decision to pot it was ours together. I’d rinsed the rocks before, cleaned away the hard water crust, untangled the root threads, cut out two woven, withered stems, but nothing changed, and so the pot, the dirt, that wrong fecundity and because it was December, a month cruel, not curious, I said put the pot outside. You did. You say the bamboo only looks greener, that it’s the snow, so, so white, piled deep around the stems, as knotted and bare as bone.
In an old east coast gym where the air outside is as thick as in, in here, hemmed in concrete, the way your calves feel after they've raised you and raised you and razed, your palms are orange. The metal plates are rimed with rust the way everything at sea must be so salted, and that gives you comfort because salt you understand, on your tongue, from your pores, beneath the damp shadows you make as you stretch. The walls understand, too, and they trap the sweat-fog, trap the round, heavy exhalations, echo back the screaming that you hate because to lift takes no sound save breath. Everything that you hear is inside, is vibration, is tremoring steel where forty-five pounds and forty-five pounds and forty-five pounds and one more, yes, stutter their quiet song across the bar. Listen to that. Say nothing. Wonder at the licked-penny tang of your hand when you wipe it across your mouth, all dirty copper, the taste its own memory of scolding: what not to put in your mouth. Wonder about your last tetanus shot. Remember that you forget.