Brendan Walsh

Contest Winner - 3rd Place

Brendan Walsh has lived and taught in South Korea, Laos, and South Florida. His work appears in Glass Poetry, Indianapolis Review, Wisconsin Review, Mudfish, Lines + Stars, and other journals. He is the author of Make Anything Whole (Five Oaks Press), Go (Aldrich Press), and Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press). He’s online at www.brendanwalshpoetry.com.

 

Dropping Weight

I.

this is what we did:

II.

garbage bag undershirts for five mile runs
credit-card-scraping our teary sweat
in doctored stairwell saunas
heated for salt-road winters

mornings before regular kids dragged
their sleepy boots through halls
we—August winds—blazed the emptiness
until classes, kept our grayed eyes
open for Wednesdays, Saturdays,
whenever scales read our fortunes
and we reddened for six-minute
matches and concession egg sandwiches,
liters of Gatorade which blued-to-vomit
in the armpit locker rooms
of nowhere schools
highways from Hartford’s sunken valleys

those evenings we ate-and-drank
our blood-tummies balloon-skin taut
wearing matburn, eye-bruise, hoodies
to hide bottles and bodies-of-bones

III.

Will wrestled 152 sophomore year
when I was concussed to amnesia
and we all felt thinner, shredded,
lean less like starvation than strength
what’s a body for if not depriving
until these minds which know so much
begin to focus solely on bread, milk,
the ripe-fake smells of cafeteria pizza,
a euphoric epiphany of cookie
or an untimed sip of water fountain

a few days before States, Will’s diet cracked—
he blimped-up twenty pounds
up two weight classes
and cut 48 hours straight
to make that number his number
which was his life and home
which shrunk his vast brain to figures
as the standardized slate-black scale
bobbed digital red

must-have-felt years
down the icicled February street circling Secret Lake
years in sweats and trash bags
cottonmouth years
years the nights too-tired to sleep
too-sweaty to sit too-beaten to stand

though he made it, 152 for one lost match
and that night he threw it all back on
plus seven pounds—wings, milk, ice cream,
fluffernutters like a Savannah rain
his body the crumbling, suffocating earth

IV.

what a cigarette lull that scale
what a master that scale
a hypnotist, a parent,
an unblinking eye that scale

V.

we loved our abs, loved our ribs,
the veins of our softskin biceps
this was hard, we were hard,
our paperthin chins ivory-hard,
the banana-yellow piss
and laxative dinners hard

we earned our suffering
our sheer bodies, which on good days,
days with one meal,
felt a little bit like snowglobes
after the confetti flakes
settle on the glass

‘Dropping Weight’ is one of my first attempts to confront the layers of bizarre toxic masculinity that have accumulated over the course of my life. For most of my earlier poetry career I sought to distance myself from the jockishness that I grew up in, specifically the six years I spent wrestling. Wrestling wasn't really a sport for me as much as it was a pathway to obsession and disordered behavior, and this poem confronts that—we were fifteen years old when we learned how to tactically erase parts of our bodies and personalities, and we did it with pride. Deprivation does remarkable things to people, and this poem examines how that emptiness manifests in objects and ideas, like a scale or an abstract concept like being 'hard.' We learned to love the feeling of starvation, but only because it signified a very specific goal of making the number on the scale read what we wanted. It wasn't about winning a match after making weight, it was about making weight to display control over our bodies, then of course binge eating and drinking water. It's only 12 years later that my wrestling friends and I are acknowledging how this process has directly led to our relationships with food and our bodies. 

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