Cupids Health

Anabolic Poetics: From Steroids to Stanzas, Part…


(read part I of Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley’s “Anabolic Poetics” here)

Again and again, we press the needle of experience into our body and push:

You and I step onto the platform, one body inside another, consciousness to consciousness—upon a chalk-dusted stage—we exist for this one lonely moment.

Atop our shoulder blades, exactly five hundred pounds in clattering wheels of iron form a bowed yoke. Less than .01% of humans can even stand up with this much weight. We are going to squat it. All the way to the floor—and back up. We are losing circulation in our hands and lower legs. Fading fast. We are white knuckling the way a brown body knows all too well. We are torniquet-ed in wrist wraps, knee sleeves, and a big thirteen-millimeter-thick leather belt. Its twin prongs shine in the chrome flash of a dozen iPhones filming. There is a lot riding on this.

Before we grabbed the barbell, we barked like a dog. We rough rolled our forehead into its cross thatch of dirty knurling. We smacked our feet against the ground. Someone in the crowd yelled, “KILL IT.” Like an animal shakes dry, we shook our head back and forth, sniffed in deep through our nostrils. We don’t need smelling salts. We are something truly wild.

The weight wobbles. The longer we stand, the more strength is sapped from our body. We need to drop. We take a great, final breath into our belly. Our abdominal wall seals, wringing its musculature around our spine. We push out against our belt. Into the well-rehearsed footing, our feet lock. We drop. “Ass to grass.”

When our hips pass the hinge of our knee, our butt barely above the floor, we stall. Our body is a loaded spring. We are an unthinking lever. In this moment there is only you and me. Us and our max weight “in the hole.” We will stand up or we will be pinned to the ground. This most important moment in our sport lasts for just the smallest fraction of lived experience. Everyone who’s planked on their forearms and toes for a full minute knows each millisecond stretches out in agony. But there is no anguish in our moment. This hiccup in the universe. There is no time for the sustained. There is barely a string of milling milliseconds for our coach, or our lover, or our fellow competitor to shout, “UP, UP, UP,” from the sidelines. There is nothing on either side of the now.

So, we push.

We are holding maybe a single pair of full-boar seconds. One. Two. We are touching the backdoor of enlightenment. We don’t know the Four Noble Truths, but detachment is here. Here, if we remain attached, we will fail. If we are attached to the sudden twinge of pain in our knee, we will fail. If we are attached to the impending pendulum of how to pay next month’s rent, we will fail. If we take stock of the dozen capillaries in either eye bursting red with blood under the iron pressure, we will fail. If we stay attached to the metal—and nothing but—we will stand.

 In Dēmos: An American Multitude I try my damndest to stay attached to the metal.

I have never written a single poem about steroids or powerlifting. Those aren’t the mechanisms of my enlightenment, my metal. They aren’t my side door into the sublime or what rends my core. These twinned vignettes are, in my opinion, not the most compelling lived qualities of the clashing multitudes contained within. But steroids and powerlifting are the pitch-perfect coincidence of opposites, coincidentia oppositorum, to collide into an essay about my poetics. From histories before Longinus to right this very second, we are here for the sublime. Like powerlifting and poetry—coincidentia oppositorum, my coincidence of opposites—like Coleridge, we so often find poetry “reveal[ing] itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities.” Like that idiom about alchemy being the business of unifying counterparts, here I am in 2021 hammer and tongs about what metal might reclaim the cliched container of opposing multitudes.

Dēmos (pronounced day-mahs, but we will lean hard into any multiplicative re-pronunciations of the Greek-root of Democracy, as is there any other word over whose meaning our country so viciously disagrees?) meaning “of the people,” this collection contends with the conflicted histories of my people, i.e., “we who gather,” as in the collection’s title poem, “American Multitude.” My collection begins in somewhat reverse order. The first text is the “Before Anything: Acknowledgement” section coupled with a photo of my grandmother, Matsume Hasebe, in her father’s prison cell. It foregrounds what rends my core, what opposites coincide to create one poet’s fire.

My grandmother’s childhood home was burned to ash in the great Fire Bombing of Tokyo, the single most destructive bombing raid in human history: such great American butchery that bomber pilots had to apply their oxygen masks to keep from vomiting as they were hit by the reek of burning, human flesh. Her father was imprisoned, beaten. She fled to America. She fled internment. In a perfect coincidence of opposites, my grandfather fled the last gasp of American Indian boarding schools—the Thomas Indian School or the Thomas Asylum of Orphan and Destitute Indian Children—his Haudenosaunee feet carrying him from NY to a town of three thousand in Somerset, Pennsyltucky. These are the histories that truly push and pull, rend the core, hypodermic. This is what metal I cannot emancipate from my tissues.

I write about the maw of white supremacy: the fangs of a Punnett Square series tight around the infamous Phips Proclamation of a nation’s founding. “Twenty-five pounds for every SCALP of such Female Indian or Male Indian under the Age of Twelve Years, that shall be killed and brought in,” (emphasis the colonizer’s: His Honor, Spencer Phips). These fangs around a coinciding opposite, the body of what they could not kill: “but we are alive ; I am alive.”

Somewhere between all this dark honey and the darkness of our musculature, somewhere between a fractured multitude and bodhisattva Oneness, I wind the flag of my poetics. The twice-mixed grandchild of three different kinds of refugees, I am nothing if not a coincidence of opposites. Truly, aren’t we a coincidence of opposites? This is what pierces flesh and spirit, joints and marrow. Hypodermic. What cuts deeper than this? 

What amber; our history.

What needles; a line, our poems.

What body; this country, our people.

 

I am here to push.

 

 



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