by | Apr 15, 2023 | Poetry

SQUATTING by James Swansbrough

By the end of week two I needed an outlet.
For frustration, helplessness, the present.

The waiting area’s goldfinch puzzle still
lacked two pieces on the fifth completion.

I’d given up improving the kitchenette coffee brews &
the busy road outside hospice lacked a shoulder to run.

When I inquired at the gym down the street
the receptionist had to call over a manager.

Manager said he had to call the owner.
His forearms veined from his sleeves like a tributary.

Unusual request, I guess: Random out-of-towner
asking to use the gym for an indeterminate short term.

Possibly even just today.
Friend dying, etc.

Manager said the owner asked $20 a session.
Sure, fine, thanks.

Receptionist approached me at the squat rack &
palmed me a card like a drug dealer.

These are a January promo but they’re good for a seven-day trial.
Stupid not to offer it in October too.

I asked him what the manager would say.
He’s probably already spent your $20 toward whey at GNC, screw him.

I thanked him for the unexpected kindness.
The card had seven squares, & the desk hole-punch was star-shaped.

My friend died just a few days later.
I never informed or returned to the gym.

Occasionally I’ll wonder if the receptionist remembered my visits.
My brief trial.

I still have the half-punched card stored away somewhere.
Like the lost belt of Orion.

Photo used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


James Swansbrough runs a restaurant repair company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His work has appeared in West Branch, Free State Review, Cagibi, Freshwater Review, Watershed Review, and others. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and has been awarded Honorable Mention twice: for the 2019 Yeats Poetry Award by the WB Yeats Society of New York, and for the 2022 New Millennium Writing Awards in Nashville. He lives in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, with his wife and daughters.