Fiery stock exchanges

Our bodies are fiery stock exchanges. The gym is a colon, a colony of commerce, with a daily digestive index.

Elizabeth Knox, ‘Going to the gym’, The Love School

I wanted to see if I could write a poem about the gym. How to make such a vacuum of a place visible again?

If you go to a gym, you will know that often when you are there, you think about being elsewhere. The gym is a negative of a place, and the present moment is a void – it’s only ever people thinking about the past and future, above the looping of treadmills and ellipticals, the trickling and evaporating of sweat. I don’t think anyone really wants to go to the gym: they want to have gone to the gym. The point of going is to carry out the transaction then straighten your figurative tie and leave.

At the same time, I’m kind of fascinated by gyms, and I remember vividly every gym I’ve ever been to. The high school gym, of course, but that never really counted – it was massive and cold, really just a wooden floor and a high ceiling with a chewed rope hanging from it. My first “gym” gym, was Bruce’s Fitness Centre in Te Kuiti. What was I doing there? I was thirteen! Still, I would lift weights and go on the rowing machine, willing my arms to become wiry – I would’ve been the size and shape of a solitary green bean at that point – and sometimes I did Step Reebok. Step Reebok was taught by Yvonne, Bruce’s wife. Yvonne was a tall, fleece-suited woman with a swept-back puff of hair, the embodiment of brisk. I wonder what she does now. I liked her. Maybe she’s still there. (I just googled: she is.)

by Michael Carlebach via New York Times

Today the gym has become a Bermuda Triangle in which everything but my physical presence vanishes clean away. I’m a vacancy, a dead maw. For this reason I’m impressed by people who can socialise there. The other day, before a spin class, people were talking about chutney. Not just the flavour combinations they liked, but their experiences of making it. Apple, beetroot, tomato. It was formidable. At the gym I’m limited to smiling, and occasionally, if pressed, saying something about how dark it is in the mornings. But every morning now it’s a little less dark, so in a week or so I’ll change tack to how much lighter it is in the mornings. After that … my God, I don’t know what will happen. At the gym I am pretty much a terrible person.

Anyway, I tried to write a poem about the gym, and now I’m starting to think maybe I’ll do a series of posts about gyms. It may be fruitless. But a place that provokes such reactions – fear and loathing, fanaticism, a variety of boredoms – is worth exploring, I think.

Here’s the poem. Just like at the gym, the less said about it, the better.

Going to the gym (via This isn’t happiness)

The turning

At the gym today there’s a very old lady on a treadmill.
She hangs on to the rails and peers down at her slip-ons
padding along in earnest; they must think
they’re going down to the shops or the garden.

Her movement generates a mild panic
amongst her clothes – they muddle about and cling to each other
a floral shirt peeping
out behind the great tree of her cardigan.

Most days the gym is a lonely place. A human forest.
The high windows hold bars of sunlight.
In the distance people lift things up, put them down in silence.
Sometimes someone calls out, or a weight falls, but mostly
you have to keep to yourself.

Today while I’m stretching, I close my eyes
and when I open them, there’s the face of an old man:
“Oh!” His pixillated eyes, his veins, his nose at close range.
“I thought you must be having a turn.” He places
a shakening hand on my arm. “But you’re all right.”
And he asks me to strap his feet into the stationary bike.
I oblige. His sneaker is light as a bird.
“Not too tight … Jesus not too tight!”
And his knotted knees tremble.
“Not too tight, my lady; I’ll never get out.” He waves me away
and leans into the imaginary wind.

The very old lady on the treadmill has subscriptions
on her mind. She drifts as if down to the letterbox.
Her slip-ons reveal her heels, all splintered bark
but her varicose veins are pretty,
a tangle of forget-me-nots.

Deep into the spooling road, I used to
race myself. I believed I was shedding layers of myself
until only a facsimile of a person was left –
a fine lace of sweat, tailored to a ghost.

About ashleighlou

Person, usually on bike
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7 Responses to Fiery stock exchanges

  1. Belinda says:

    I have never commented before but have to let you know how much I love your writing. It stays with me for days – in fact your “when I sat down they puffed air” has made me giggle for weeks! Your blog gives me an enormous amount of pleasure, thank you.


  2. David Geary says:

    I was once at Les Mills gym in Wellington, went into the showers alone and when I opened my eyes Lockwood Smith was naked in front of me… smiling… But my favourite gym story is meeting Anthony McCarten there and he was wearing socks around the weights stations. He explained that he’d forgotten to bring his gym shoes and couldn’t take his socks off as he’d been at some party the night before where someone had painted his toenails, and he’d forgotten about that too. And I once started a poem – I saw Fitzy at the gym / Couldn’t stop staring at him / Someone tried to chat him up / He won the rugby world cup / What did he tell her? / As he touched his patella… I think yours is possibly better. I better get onto that History of Headbutts. Happy New Year.


    • That’s a great story about Anthony McCarten. You could go to the Woman’s Weekly with that. The only famous person I’ve known to come to the gym I go to is Jay Rayner, the food critic, and he emitted a very strong “do not talk to me” force field. Fair enough, too – in some ways I think being at the gym is an intensely private activity. Yes, you must get onto the headbutt history! (Whenever I think of the word “headbutt” I inadvertently recoil into my neck like a turtle.) It’s so ripe! I look forward to it.


  3. kfg says:

    I don’t spend much time in gyms. By the time I get there I’ve already had my aerobic machine workout and it’s time to cool down on the way back home. I suppose if I ever need a power rack or something I’ll have to join one, but the gyms have all been filled up with those damed treadmills these days.

    Oh, yeah, nice poem.


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