by Steve Gaines

I spend an hour every morning
working up a sweat on exercise machines
in a gym,
in a coronary care facility,
in a hospital,
in an age of heart
problems run amok,
in a brand new century,
in the very first year of the new millennium, in
my sixty-forth year.

while I cycle,
and row,
and climb,
and run,
I am looking around the room

wondering who I am in this curious context.
wondering
do I really belong to this group of white haired senior
citizens
in their sixties,
their seventies,
their eighties
…etc…etc…
all of us well beyond the
bloom of youth by a good margin
dueling with the challenges
of continued good health, tilting with the
grim reaper tirelessly.

is this who I am?

I spend this hour every morning
starting at six AM
making up excuses not
to go.
(they never work)
stumbling around in the dark
trying not wake my sleeping wife,
feeding
the cat at his insistence.
working off the guilt
that keeps me going.
driving the four miles in
the cool of the morning
finally beginning to wake up.
all the time
adding up the past
that has put me here,
coming up with the great
question.
wondering who I am,
hoping to rebuild the old foundations of an ill
spent youth,
trying to rise
from my own ashes I guess.
the only answer coming,
so early,
the most obvious!
it really is who I am!
just another old man
throwing himself at one more
hill to climb.
one of “them” after all
when it comes to
admitting such a reluctant
truth.
even though I do not have
white hair (unless you count the beard,)
even though I do not feel
like one of them, except every night in my
aches and pains,
except every afternoon
coming out of another nap, unexpected.
even though I do not remember becoming old!
in spite of what it says on
my driver’s license.

it is who I am!

every morning it is who I am,
every morning like clock work
(which is what it is.)
the entire litany of preparations measuring me out again:
having taken my fistful of drugs and vitamin supplements.
having checked in with my very own bar code pendant
hanging from my neck.
relieved to hear the beep of recognition,
my proof of another day.
we all wear that white plastic badge
of belonging like a computer
sacrifice to the new age,
a means of counting our heads
and streamlining the monthly billing.

by whatever number we go by,
it is who we are!
all of us an eight digit number
we were bestowed with over fifty years ago.
most of us now collecting
the benefits of that number every month.
the trickling residue of our long years of labor,
just another of the
rewards of old age!

the roll having been taken
we stop at the scale,
we record our pulse,
we have our blood pressure taken,
yet another proof we exist.
high or low it is a sign of life
and we write it down as well.
we bemoan
its implications,
or we brag of its minute sum,
its perfect proportions.

all the procedures and forms followed,
we pick up a towel and the dance
begins.
the early morning ritual of rebirth,
of renewal and hope,
in a social happening
of curious consequence
and a careless self
expression.
an exercise in both physical
and intellectual competition.
in something like a track meet,
in something like a coffee klatch.
little old men and women
(not so little really)
playing at our morning games.

this too is who I am,
an incipient little old man,
just one more
celebrant marching to the systolic/diastolic music
of what ever notes there are
left to us.

we fill the hall
with sweat and grunts of exertion,
adamant refusals
to accept our geriatric identities.
it doesn’t work of course.
like some kind of stumbling square dance,
we rush, at five minute intervals,
from station to station,
a confusing gavotte in three quarter time.
moving at the chirp of the clock
in the corner across the crowded room.
trying to beat some ninety year old
to our favorite stationary bike.
re-setting the stair stepper,
higher than the previous “wimp.”
numbers to leave the next guy
panting till he turns it down.
except that sometimes he turns it up,
ah the indignity!

and after all it is who we all are!

all us afflicted,
the aged and infirm,
the once players in the fast lane
now become deliberate seekers
of an impossible dream.
the desperate
chasers of a few more years
added to the grand total.
the hope of living
for ever, or at least another morning
well spent pushing us on,
grim little troupers in the war against what?
immortality?
not really.
just doing what we’re told obediently.
just trying not cash in our chips
right there in front of everyone.
strangely,
in our second childhood,
fighting the up hill battle against
decay and decrepitude.
all of us on the long down hill slide
toward an end just trying to make
that slide a little longer.
pushing that inevitable finish line
further down the road.

in the lingering stiffness
of every morning’s work out I begin to
discover something else
I am. still a child in a curious way,
still a slightly obnoxious role
model for all my fellow inmates.
still able to find a flexibility and
speed unlikely to the group.
and they all silently long for
my cool disregard and casually admire the
still such shapely legs.
narcissist in my acceptance
of their sideways glances,
I imagine their
envy and strangely
remember my inadequate junior high dreams.
curiously these events
are something like those dreams, something I’m
constantly “overcoming!”

and this too is who I am!

these all are the bizarre minds games
I practice in this daily hour.
the questions,
the absurd conclusions,
the constant attempts at self
deception.
strange ego trips
and speculations in time to my increased respiration
as the morning spends its energy
along one of the world’s great cycles,
literally and figuratively.
pedaling and pushing, pulling and panting,
celebrating the motions
simply because we can still move
beyond a limp.
illness and health in
the fine balance, strength
and flexible joints a distant memory for
them, for who “they” are.

but for me, for who I am,
or the silent reminder of who I think I am.
the eternal junior high student, there is something else.

the lies that keep me young and dying!

my false expectations and bravado,
my daily “showing off.”
bending where most of “them”
no longer bend.
still with the slim
profile of another age.
a mere shadow of my
fat fifties left on the alter of by-pass surgery ten
years ago.
two hundred and something pounds
a dim yesterday now.
playing center
stage to all my wide eyed
admirers like John Travolta on the disco floor,
like Fred and Ginger if you will.

and this is also who I am,
the performer,
the consummate show off.
insisting on an eager
and steadfast audience.
living off the sighs and
giggles.
pushed one more repetition beyond good sense.
surrendering to the old pain
and the odd pulled muscle just to hear the
crowd exclaim their amazement,
just to answer all the same questions.
just to satisfy their jealousy and wonder.
“how can you do that?”
as if it were some kind of past gift they all
missed out on,
and not the results of sixty some years of doing it
because I could.

every morning,
every new beginning,
like another step down the
mountain,
we dance to the musak coming out of the wall.
we move in the careful choreography
of old people from machine to
machine checking pulse rates,
keeping our logs,
all the pertinent numbers.
the books strewn precisely
along the rows of tables all orange colored.
all neatly aligned
in just such a way, put down in the same place
everyday like the lives in the room,
the common echoes.
telling yesterday’s
jokes,
showing up exactly on the minute,
stuck in the predictable routine of a
life not so creative anymore.
all of us deliberate and unchanging,
constantly alert to the missed step.

and all the time just being who we are,
who we become more and more everyday.
and of course who I become, in spite of the
querulous refusals and denials.

it is who I am!

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