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Songs of Life - Working Out at the Kroc Center in Dorchester

'Songs of Life'  is a poem that captures what it is like to work out in the Fitness Center at Dorchester's Kroc Center.  Writing the poem was based on a methodology suggested by the prolific poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, Stephen Dunn.  Capturing the feel of working out, especially the endless repetition, the poem breaks stride and closes in a delightful surprise.

Workout equipmentThe Kroc Center on Dudley Street in Dorchester is a collection of unique and multi-functional spaces, each with its own purpose and personality, including the gymnasium, the fitness center, cardiovascular, aquatic, the chapel and performing arts, education rooms, Kroc Cafe and more.

This author is a member and frequents the fitness center a couple times a week.  After a while, you know what to expect.  You walk into a room that is familiar and, although you may not know anyone by name, there is a sense of singular purpose, peace and acceptance.

Stephen Dunn is a Pulitzer prize winning author interviewed by NPR's Rachel Martin as part of their 1/19/14 Weekend Edition Sunday programming.   A quiet man, he seemed to speak in short sentences which also reflected how his approach to writing poetry has changed.  Mr. Dunn is the author of 17 books of poetry.

Stephen Dunn spoke of the "dangers of experiential poetry," the results of authors capturing in a poetic format the "who, what, where, when, why and how" without also taking the time to "exercise a degree of selection," as if what happened, the narrative, were important in its own right.  Not that what you are thinking about writing necessarily has purpose in advance.  Quite the contrary.  Mr. Dunn suggests the process of exploration. Poetry is as much, if not more, an opportunity to pen the words and to discover, to re-pen, re-locate, re-direct and to follow a path that hinges the unexpected into a narration or a poetic image that even the author did not expect.

This author was so moved by the interview that a commitment was made to follow the idea of capturing an ordinary moment in words and to explore directing it into poetic form.  So over the course of the week from 1/19/14 through 1/25/14, notes were made on paper and in fleeting memories and images of an ordinary place - the Kroc Center Fitness Center - who was doing what, when and, how but not necessarily why. 

The result is the poem:  "Songs of Life" with a wonderful surprise in the final stanzas, at least it was for me.

Songs of Life

Six TV screens turned down, no sound
just young black men in comfortable clothes
t-shirts, shorts, sneakers and sweats
ears plugged with thin wires, hanging down
the pace is slow, the pace is constant

Wires to weights, on pulleys drawn
faces grimacing with each pull
repeat, repeat, until it hurts
decompress, breathe, plan the next
between the reps, check that cell

Long sleeve shirts and thin black T's
blue hoodie, red shirt, white eagle high
no pain, no gain, shooting pain
crack that neck, rub muscles sore
the pace is slow, the efforts insane
Muscles rippling, defined, pronounced
walking slowly, the pace is sure,
this machine, that one and then the next
a panther springs, grabs and pulls high
lifts up, drops down, again and again

New comer, still fresh, walking fast
cell phone banded on upper arm
adjusting, slowing, prepping his mind
hip abduction 110, 40
70 cramps, breathe, relax

Next to me, her routine set
young lady adjusting height and place
weights locked in at 95
ready, she moves in concentration
building her strength, gaining confidence

Amidst the dozens of lives in motion
except for spelling dangerous weights
not much talk, exchange or banter
community is solitary, solo moves
quiet intent, all in one accord

No one hugs when the reps are high
Honors, certificates, nowhere found
but bodies glistening in anguished sweat
and muscles growing like newborn cubs
walking is lighter and springs to the step

I, too, absorbed in fleeting thoughts
while reps of 15 till 100 are done
easier in the middle than either end
watching the TV's, companion-like
the stories are lost, but no one minds

From behind he came, unexpected surprise
walking quickly, direct, as if intent
but not on muscles or counting reps
someone had distracted his concentration
like a gift in the mail you don't expect

Bending forward, inside the curve,
he planted a kiss on her sweatied cheek
I blushed, she turned and laughed in surprise
gave words of greeting in her Cabo Verde
young lovers lost or good friends found

What words they spoke were foreign to me
but language was used in other ways
proximity, touching, knowingness
her body relaxing, inviting was she
her friend, herself to the songs of life

Posted: January 26, 2014     Nancy J Conrad

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