Learn something well enough to be tremblingly aware of what you cannot do. Let it break your heart. - Lightsey Darst
WHAT I CANNOT DO
Elizabeth J. Colen
The treadmill is mindless and feels the way I feel when I’m worrying a point with myself I’m never going to win, some tautology that winds itself deeper and deeper into the generalized anxiety I move through the world with. For instance:
I need to do yoga so I get more flexible and do not break my hip at a youngold age—old people are always breaking and dying of a broken hip—and I don’t want to do yoga because I’m not very flexible and don’t like to do things I’m bad at.
When I said die of a broken hip you heard heart, right?
The treadmill is mindless and I can watch TV.
Judge Judy Judge Judy Judge Judy. Judy let down your hair.
Before I work out I hold three things in my head:
**Dictionary.com’s word of the day
(flit, verb, to move lightly and swiftly; fly, dart, or skim along),
**a random article (half-read) from Wikipedia
(Eupithecia nagaii is a moth in the Geometridae family; it is found in Japan),
**and an image from the next poem in whatever book I’m reading
(There is no time but the light remains, from Gillian Conoley’s “Schools of Thought”).
It is no good if I do something rote if I do not direct myself and my thoughts. Judge Judy can colonize,
Fox News can,
repeats of Roseanne.
I am a heel runner.
Without direction I fixate. Without—
Bees flitting flower to flower .
2. To flutter, as a bird. Flutter, nutter, butter, better, go-getter, banana-fanna-fo-fetter. Fetter, mo-better.
3. The hours flitting by. I say I will be there by ten, I say I will be there by nine, I say I will be there at noon.
4. To depart or to die or to move.
To depart or to die or
to move it or lose it.
My mother never ran. She never exercised at all. And how were her hips?
My mother never ran. How were her hips?
She never exercised at all.
My mother never ran. She never exercised at all.
My mother never ran / is dead now / never broke her hip / never ran.
My mother never ran. My mother never got old enough to break a hip.
Flutter, nutter, mo-butter, fo-fetter, go-getter.
She never ran. She never exercised at all.
One good thing about chemo—my aunt said my mother said—
Fo-fetter. Go-butter. She ate two whole pies a day—key lime—the last two months of her life.
A fly flits in the tin before the meringue goes in.
I can eat anything, she said.
At the motel I eat carb upon carb upon carb for breakfast. My key card jams the workout room’s slip lock. That hairy guy is in again, looks up with a grinwhatwantstobegroan. At the bar across the parking lot he will buy me a drink later. My my my my whiskey. Yellowbrown swirl in a glass.
Heel-toe heel-toe: thud thud thud thud
I should take a tip from you, neck hair says. The orange light the orange mahogany light the light like strange and streetlight across the street a gun emporium, advertised as Alabama’s biggest. I let him buy another. What’s that, I say. What tip. There’s too much sugar in this, he taps with the shredded toothpick umbrella. Daiquiri daiquiri dock. I want him to be more attractive, I want him to be younger, I want him to be more my type, that is: a woman.
Do you… are you… he says. No I will say to his anything. No I don’t
come here often.
My mother is dying and I feel none of it.
A moth has a long chambered heart that runs the length of its body, pumps hemolymph (not blood), not red.
Thankgodforthegym, he says. When traveling—
When I think about any of it—
It’s really just an old motel room emptied of beds and filled with machines. The shower has been filled in, closeted. The walls mirrored.
I would have the most elegant sex in a room like this. I would have the most dramatic sex in a room like this. The most cautious sex. This most cautious. Every angle. Angle. Every. Every up and down. Every side ways. In a room like this, I think every time.
There was that boy in high school with a mirror over his bed. Howdoesitnotfall I thought every time. His ass looked good up there.
And the parts of me.
When I think about any of it, my heart just races for no reason I can account for and I have trouble breathing. And I wish Judge Judy was on.
The moths in Japan.
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera—
They are not mirror images,
one side to the other.
Something happens in translation.
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
I never knew what that meant.
It is a light brown moth like all the others, leaves dust too like all the others, it has antennas that never look straight inside any picture. It’s body is
a body is a meaty thing, a weighty one
it lugs itself around, beats on glass, destroys itself in what light remains
I start up the machine it is like the other machine and I know how to use it each time. I watch in the mirror, mirror to mirror to mirror as he slips and clinks the key to add the weight and then he sits down. I know in some mirror he’s looking at me.
Sometime in the streetlight orange light there is no time
I know but the light remains.
Later I will look at my notes and know I left something out. Later he will remove his belt in one motion and roll it up on the desk.
Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012), flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011), and the long poem / lyric essay hybrid The Green Condition (Ricochet Editions, 2014). She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is editor for Jaded Ibis Press’s Bowerbird series.