My evening commute takes me along a highway that could be Anywhere, USA — a rootless route of chain restaurants, box stores, motels, gas stations. One evening, stopped at a red light, I noticed that the “L” in the local strip-mall Gold’s Gym sign had gone dark.

I had one of those delicious negative epiphanies I can have, if I’m lucky, in such dismal moments, and as I watched the bodies moving and shaking behind the neon-lit plate glass window — a space strangely public and strangely claustral — I began to feel that thrill of the float of one perception over another, which is one of the ways I know I’ve got the germ of a poem.

I had been recently reading about the Shakers — that visionary, Utopian, doomed community — about their celibacy; their gorgeous, meticulous craftsmanship; their practice of “shaking” in a kind of religious trance, and also about the strange, unlooked-for gift of a shower of early cherry blossoms that I’d walked through earlier that very morning. All of this conflated for me, allowing me, I hope, to articulate the various ways we “worship” and are transported, if we are open to change, to motion, to ecstasy (ex stasis: to be beside oneself), in a mixing of secular and sacred turf, always irresistible for me. The italicized lines are a well known Shaker tenet, and I liked how they urge a note of carpe diem into my poem, as well.

Gold's Gym, Charlottesville, Va.

God’s Gym

In blunder of dusk I negotiate rush hour
past the strip-mall fitness center,

plate glass tableaux of bodies in treadmill
silhouette, a neon elbow in the signage above gone dark.

I can hear from here the earbuds stair-stepping,
bottomless techno sham, no bridge, no left hand,

& consider the fit of cherry blossoms
that blew against my blouse this morning.

I pretended you sent them to me;
also the cursive plum branch in ghostly waver,

blue jay already swallowed by white sky. Lover,
I could say, or little brother, consider the Shakers,

their simple holes and pegs complicated by glossolalia
of twitch and stomp as if you had a thousand years

to live, and their celibate shafts of conversion,
as if you were to die tomorrow

of adoption, the upper room of the heart emptying
into tongues of esophageal fire.

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  • Marsha Sebastian June 23, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Thank you for the blessing of poetry!