Six Old Guys / Fat

By Dorothea Lasky




Six Old Guys

(For Thom on his 31st birthday, written in honor of both this and his magical eyes)

There are six old guys at the 90th St. Y that I see go every day at 3:30 p.m. into the men’s locker room. I work the entrance desk there. Each old guy is different, but similar, slightly graying at the edges of their crowns, slightly terry-cloth in everything about themselves. I laughed once when Betty called them all silver foxes. I thought so, too. Something so tan and frail about them simultaneously. Something both alive and dead. I knew they went swimming, but I didn’t know much about the pool, despite being a gym employee. In college, I had been a competitive weight lifter and even now, my arms were very muscular, maybe too much so for a woman. At 3:33 p.m. every day, minutes after the old guys, a young guy always comes in. His hair is brown, but as he walks into the door of the Y from the outside, there is something blond about it as it shines in the light. He is very tall. I know he works at the local paper. Sometimes I see his name in print above stories about the war and politics. Teddy Culkins. His Y ID says the same name. We talk sometimes, too. Just passing thoughts, like the gym hours or the fact that the winds are picking up when they are picking up, like in the changing of the seasons. I like his eyes the best. They are the color of the ocean off the coast of Florida where I grew up, long before I came to this godforsaken city. I used to hunt for alligators in that ocean with my brother, the sunlight streaming on us like two tanned animals. One time we caught one, a baby alligator. My brother caught it first by the tail and then swung his arms around like windmills until he could grab the mouth. Susan! Susan! he shouted as he held the alligator like a tiny c. When I walked over, the only thing I really saw of the alligator was his scaly back. Still, even that day the ocean was a calm grey-blue color. I looked at it more than at the alligator, cause there was something so sad about it, that color. It was the saddest color in the world, only because it seemed to be the kind of color that would never give up. What is green in the moonlight by the great Niagara Falls? Not this grey-blue thing that could enter everywhere if it wanted to. The space for the color entered everywhere, especially in my head. There are times at night when I am sleeping alone with my husband that that color is the only thing I allow to enter my head. And even so that the space for the color is everywhere, it is just sometimes that I am the only one in the universe with enough unearthly sadness to fully let it in. It needs me. Both day and night. I think about it. A lot. At night, when I am dreaming about the color, I sometimes shout unearthly things, the moans of children long past or the calls of nightingales. My husband rouses me from these dreams with his voice. Susan he asks me What is it your dream of? But I do not answer back to him. There is no way someone like him would ever understand.


Sometimes anorexia is all you have left
When the fat surrounds you
Like blubber from a lamb
That has been defatted and fatted again
By so much sadness
You are not sure where its skin ends
Bhanu Kapil screams THERE IS NO SUCH
THING AS SKIN in my ear every time
I listen to her recording when I am alone
I have never seen her in the flesh
But to see a poet in the flesh is to not know anything
To see an engineer in his flesh is nothing
I have written poems about the flesh of scientists
But nothing in their science speaks to me about my art
I have wandered for six days with no bread, drank lemon water
Went running for a hundred miles until the sun
Shot purple streaks everywhere
It was beautiful to be a skeleton that everyone in my culture loved
I wore the most elegant clothes and draped my bony fingers
Over the same book I had written when I was fat
Except that the book seemed so big in front of my little bones
I love people in this life
The thing I love the best is being skinny
Because thinness can’t yell at you
Can’t turn its head away
You only go towards death
Like it is a very small detail
On a long path of forgiving
I will never forgive myself
For living in such a disturbing way
As the way in which I lived this life
For all eternity
Like this poem, it is so fat and useless
And no one kisses this paper
And in the end no one will protect
This paper from the rain


Dorothea Lasky is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: Thunderbird (Wave Books, 2012), Black Life (Wave Books, 2010), and AWE (Wave Books, 2007).  She is the co-editor of Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry (McSweeney’s, 2013) and is a 2013 Bagley Wright Lecturer on Poetry. She has taught poetry at New York University, Wesleyan University, and Bennington College. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Poetry at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and lives in New York City.

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