The Deadlift & Towards the Pebbled Shore

MICHAEL YOST is an essayist and poet living in rural New Hampshire with his wife and children. His essays and poems can be read at Crisis Magazine, Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review and Hearth and Field, as well as at his website,  

The Deadlift

The name rings hollow: pig-iron

In gravity’s deep wallow.

The unpoetic callus 

On each palm’s pad too hard 

To feel the microscopic knurl

Packed white with chalk, the burnished steel

Bar like some eel of river shining

Yet stippled still with the pock of rust. 

The body, braced against itself feels fear

For its own softness, singing for sweet rest. 

The plates all packed like brothers on the bar, 

Their edges sharp from the white hot lip of the mold. 

Then suddenly, the mind resolves itself to mass,

White pylons of tense bone, and round well fatted muscle, 

Presses itself in feet and shin through concrete ground

And grinning, pulls through gravity like broken glass. 

And there they hang, the bar and plate, all clattering in air, 

Yet shaking violently as if they cannot stay, like leaves

or bells quite badly made, to ring the chimes and iron hours

Of body’s powers, pains, and passing finally away. 

Towards the Pebbled Shore

My Papa took me out the day before

to sit outside the ancient red barn’s door, 

All painted black, and sliding back to shut. 

He told me I was helping him out, but 

I couldn’t help but feel he wanted me 

To witness something. I was there to see. 

The barn’s inside was dim, and cellar-cool. 

Its walls were lined with seed-bag, wire and tool;

The floorboards wide, unvarnished, roofbeams barked.

One long swift century had weathered, marked

It for its own. The sun outside showed all 

The colors of the world there were. The ball

I played with sat still in the north field’s green

Long blades, bright rubber blue. The sheen

Of light struck firmly off each branch and stone

And gave each thing a presence all its own, 

And lit the rock wall flaming low with moss,

As coals flame low and heavy in the loss

Of fire in evening. Papa loped out, took

The cockerel by his claws, and with a look

Of concentration laid him down upon 

A stump, quite still. A stroke: the head was gone. 

It fell down flat, heraldic, violently;

Beak parted, tongue out, crowing silently. 

One eye looked up; alone, to watch the sky, 

The other gazed at earth. The pool and dye 

Of blood, much brighter red than you would think

Dripped down the empty ruff, in squib and plink

Into the metal bucket, drops of jewels 

Upon a field. Invert, above these pools, 

The bag of muscles twitched just where it was. 

The dead bird’s gray pin feathers and gray fuzz

Soon littered all the lawn. The entrails out, 

The feet off, Papa turned the bird about

And carved at each distinct and white-pink joint. 

I stood and shuffled, looking at one point

At ground and sky, and back again as well,

Made nervous by the casual, wholesome smell

Of cockerel’s blood and feathers in the air. 

I grabbed a quill, and put it in my hair.

At that age, I could barely think or talk;

But still some thing as round and firm as rock,

And yet as broad and moving as the gust

Of wind that blew that day came as it must;

Yet everything retained its form and color

And multiplied its mass; no shade was duller.

I knew myself as something with a shore, 

Where water laps and freely spills. Before

I thought myself the world, some kind of all

Without circumference, gravity, or fall.