Poem by George Lober
Photo by Jill Burhans

 
 
 
The Lesson Before You

Consider the old German at the gym,
his straight back, the spark  in his eye
while he stands in front of the mirror
by the weight rack, one hand on his hip,
the other tracing letters on the glass
with a small towel, carefully directing
his arm in alphabetical order through
the effort of moving from “L” to “M” to N.”
Consider what you’ve learned of him
over the years—émigré, scholar, forgiver,
lover of the music your father loved,
tender to a failing wife—
and the conversations you’ve had,
the one, for example, at the lat pull
when he spoke of losing a grandfather
and two cousins at Dresden, asking
at the start of his set what that old man
and those two girls did to America,
and answering when he finished,
“Nothing, that’s how terrible war really is.”
Consider how he works his hand
through the curves of “Q,,” and “R,” and “S”
while listening to the Mills Brothers
or Harry James, and recall the times
you’ve watched him bounce back
from stroke and bypass and accident,
each time limping in here to grab
the treadmill with both hands and start
at square one again, and then when
you are ready, consider the possibility
as he finishes “W” and begins the diagonals
of “X” heading toward “Y,” that the lesson
before you is heavier than you imagined,
than any piece of iron in the place,
and one you’ve yet to fully grasp.



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