“Calisthenics” by Laura Kolbe

Laura Kolbe


Hold your own hand. See how you can
crinkle or stretch it, add years or pull them off.

Mystic tango, rubber bracer, tourniquet
of time point unverified. Those are starter words.

Look past the frozen garden to the woodpile—
how like a hand, hot-burning irresponsible

pine, silent stacked and tarped. Run to the mailbox.
Run back. To hear a voice, speak or count.

Mystic tango, iron weight plate, time point
missing—Call your muscles by their names,

hidden comrades, make them miss
the light you see—gracilis, adductor magnus,

sartorius, teres—they all adore you terribly,
like bramble that hopes for your white ankle, like sand

that follows you years off a beach. Hold your own hand.
Run past the mailbox. Skip the letters.

What could they say? Carry dumbbells.
Carry your legs. Your spotter is a brute and swollen

cloud bearing wet snow and a way of marking time
in ticks of lawn to lawn. It hovers, gives

no help. Hold your hands. Control your breath.
Iron weight plate, tango missing, respiratory

tourniquet. Or court hurt and danger for
the changes they will bring. Lift with your back

and not your legs. Twist as you lift. Move without
grace. Run to the mailbox and back, its empty curve

a black smile or a stroke sign—too dark to say. Soon
your lawn is struck-dumb sodium streetlight,

the dusky yellow flutter helpless, almost shy
as it leaves the rigid lamp. Hold your own.

Missing missing. Time point time point.
Weight and brace. Look past and hold.

When your belly tightens and your hands
twist up, you are a tree self-semaphoring

in the first lone shock of night. Count back
to human. Hold. Your hands meet above

your head, and the cold they pull down creaks
over you like a jersey made of bone.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018
Tribute to Athlete Poets


Laura Kolbe: “Before I became a poet and before I became a doctor, I became an athlete. Which wasn’t so very different than either of those—waking at four in the morning to train for track-cycling ‘nationals’ at the local velodrome, or later waking for the university cycling team and marathon team, I entered into days of laps and circles. ‘Repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise,’ as Elizabeth Bishop had it. Meanwhile, I was having all the same moods and experiences as any other young person, and I remember how strange and necessary it felt to engraft those feelings onto form itself, trying to distill them into pure power of the legs. This was maybe my first awakening to poetry: seeing how life could be transmuted into something other than itself, be it racing or language, and feeling the shock of accomplishing that change.”

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