“I always do everything wrong. Sans exception.
There I am again using ‘sans’ instead of ‘without.’”
I can’t seem to socialize properly with anyone.
If you’d been there you could have told me why.
It couldn’t be they aren’t the right friends. We’ve been
together so long: same yoga class, same teacher, same time, three—
afternoons a week seven years passage through life’s
shifting vicissitudes you’d think we’d be…
I’m getting nervous, can’t finish the thought I set out to…
Please tell me I’m right, that what’s gone can’t have
exited my system. Tell me, there are so few people I trust,
that what I’ve learned, that what I thought I knew only
yesterday hasn’t been—erased—just marked: absent.”
“Why am I a way I don’t want to be?
Everyone was at the party, except you.
Afterwards felt emptier than before. More
alone. The words were there; they echoed in the air.
It wasn’t that the others didn’t respond, or as if they’d ignored me,
yet what they said had no connection to what I’d said.
Maybe they hadn’t heard. I can’t help but think of that sentence oh
you know the one: ‘Only connect.’ E. M. Forster, right?
The sentence didn’t stand on ceremony, it just appeared.
The chatter went on without pause about matters
of significant import, or connected to why, on this night of all nights,
we had assembled at our mutual friend’s apartment.
I thought it would help to write you this letter.
Now I fear a misfire: you must think me callous.”
“Just walking the five short blocks to his building my skin—
I had just stepped out of the shower—already felt clammy.
But it wasn’t all like that, moments before the light would vanish
completely from the sky I saw a hawk flying east
and knew—it had to be he—whose nest is on the Fifth
Avenue rooftop, the one the rich-beyond-imagination
tenants have petitioned the city to dispense with; they find repellent the remains
the winged, promiscuous, and inconsiderate squatter lets fall in our path.
It’s not just the innards, familiar to anyone who’s owned an outdoor cat;
or the retching smell; or how the guts unerringly focus their malice
on the four-inch heels women have waited for this stellar occasion to wear.
I wonder if even one of them has come across the line by Whitman
that a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.”
“Maybe I’ll go back to him. Back to our first conversation
when we discovered our passion for the architect who took his main
inspiration from Whitman and how his houses
were what made growing up in Illinois tolerable.
The AC was on, nothing was wrong, nothing, nothing, nothing
I can think of happened. There was no one I didn’t know. And hadn’t seen
often. Except you know who, our host, whom the unthinkable had stricken
this past winter, a man, alone now, among a group of women of whom
I am one. We all met taking that Ashtanga yoga class back
in the day.”
“When I think how old I was then, I mean
young of course, still under thirty, I can’t believe that seven
years have gone by—in the wink of an eye.
And I don’t think they understand what I’ve gone through, being lied
to, raked over, and robbed by that conscienceless bastard who then
disappeared for a year until a mutual friend spotted him in San Cristobal.
I can’t believe I actually supported that charming imposter with no real identity
behind the façade while he was two-timing me for that squat, nondescript,
real estate broker he must have set up for a scam—
knowing how his demented mind works.
I don’t know how I’m going to get him back, yet,
but when the time comes I will. I guess I should thank him
for exposing my weakness before it became a pattern: Trust.
I know now that underneath my trust was a wish
for justice, reciprocity. My best friend urged me to put
it behind me and—begin again. Especially with my
impinging marriage to this wonderful man who’s ten years younger
than I am and absolutely adores me. (I like him too.)”
And with the practice inextricable from the number eight.
And with me under the illusion that ashtanga meant flow
for the seven years I made it through until I reached
fifty-seven. And my resistance to separate what our teacher
meant by tension from the way the word is thrown around,
But the tilde, more than any number, conveys
what I wanted it to be. Humbled, I am ready to begin again—
though destined to fall shy of it: but what is it?
WHAT ASHTANGA IS NOT
The punishing sequence to which I ascribe.
Forty bodies, four women to every man, river of sweat—
an hour and a half boiling in our own heat will do it—
my right leg all the way to the right,
the heel infallibly a hairsbreadth above
the declivities, inner thigh and cleft possessed
by a lovely former dancer whose left foot dangles
with a joyful silence above my mouth.
It’s not what I took away but what I was able to discard,
like shame, and frustration at the ever receding “it.”
The upward and downward dog required
between every pose you are not allowed to hold
during the sequence whose substance is—flow.
You are not allowed to gasp for air. You are not
allowed to sip water. And the pain you think
you feel in whatever place it calls out
is just tension. But tension meant in a sense I resisted,
like stress before the concept of stress.
When the class has more people than the space can hold they all squeeze in.
I understood, but hesitated to connect
the lines I alone had drawn.
Knowledge is responsibility.
The latter, a burden, inexorable.
And whatever the practice is not,
it is an antidote to the contortions
life is waiting and anxious to inflict
the instant our bare feet edge out of this room.
“You’d think our thoughts would be in our bodies now, the gap
filled in, given the way we sweated? Ashtanga:
and you thought it meant flow. Too much traveling of late;
too much surface. Do you know what it feels like
to be a younger looking than she is
and perhaps somewhat appealing woman
presenting a project to a room rife with dismissive men
whose latest classification—‘alpha
male’—(they pronounce it with capital letters) makes them
sound even more like the super heroes they imagine
themselves to be—men—who having hired me
to guide them to the next stage ‘to make people feel
a connection with the man-man world we live in’
can’t meet my eyes and press hands hard against
the table tops so I won’t catch them holding their ears?
You know how acute my hearing is; I wish I was the one
wearing earplugs given what I overheard in the, oh
yeah, unisex—ugh—rest room. God, how far these names are
from the things they’re supposed to be! Listen
to this: ‘Our guide, she wants us to call her, that little
cunt,’—I swear I’m taller than half of these dudes!—
‘our Virgil, more like our virgin’ ‘ha ha ha! But I doubt
that even if she were just a kid given the age they are
when they start these days those little…’ I am such
a coward, such…; I’m not really, but I could not afford to lose
the account, which amounts to about half my income
because their boss adores my work….” “Is that all he adores?”
“He’s an older man. He cares. And he wants his firm to be the first
to risk the radical design and laminate that his hirelings
wish didn’t exist. “Maybe they don’t know that he doesn’t want
to fiddle with personnel piece by piece; I’m sure those assholes
will be out as soon as the door opens.” “Then why not give them a tongue
lashing they won’t…” “And stir controversy?” “But your—rage…!”
“Maybe there’s a name for the kind of experience I’m going through.
It’s like walking down a path alongside a sage soaking up
everything he so generously shares only to look down and see
that there was no path, only a shortcut to the mess hall.
I took the turnoff to a place I’d never heard of, a place least
likely to be somewhere I’d been before. There’s nowhere
to go unless you can pass by the eerily familiar signs.
My new task is to court the unexpected.”
Mark Rudman is the author of eight books of poems, and has received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Sundays on the Phone can be heard as a radio play with the actress Martha Plimpton playing the poet’s mother on drunkenboat.com. “The Way I Am” is from his work-in-progress Identification of a Woman.
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