Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Every day you touch the slopes
of strangers’ bodies: warm,
springy muscles; skin
smelling of garlic, or lotion;
buttocks kneadable as bread dough;
and the funny, sweaty, monkey feet,
freed of their boots and stockings,
lolling passively, nowhere to go.
The whole beautiful landscape
laid out before you like an unmapped country.
And every week at the same time
an old man climbs up on your table.
His only grandchild died last week.
He’s kept an orchid from the funeral.
You spread almond oil on your palms
and rub his tough old thighs,
reminding him of the unique shape
of his strength, working
up and down the withered flanks
in a rage of tender concentration,
like a mother brooding over a hurt child.
The ghost of a grin touches his face
when you say it’s OK to fart
if he needs to. It’s OK to do anything here.
Having lived through more
than a body can stand,
he lays down the unbearable:
Here is the stripped truth of us,
in all its tragedy and ungainly glory.
This is the end of striving and luck.
Everything goes. You touch what’s left.