The Woman at the Y

 

I see her staring by the front entrance

when I join the long queue embracing rolled-up mats

within their taut arms and I look straight ahead,

like I’m not bothered,

like I’m unaware.

I feel her staring when the whale music starts

and we begin doing sun salutations.

Hazy light turns our feet into funny looking honey jars,

stretches our shadows along the hardwood floors.

Upside down I see her face behind me

while we’re doing the downward dog.

She’s sitting with her legs tucked in,

completely motionless, peering right at me

with the sad gaze of a mother who slowly unravels

what she’s knitting so she can start all over again.

Her gaze remains pinned on my skin

while our bodies move and move,

plummeting forward and back,

arching up before falling downward,

fingers locking against the bottom of our toes,

the skin there firm, slightly callous,

the texture there similar to a devout dancer

who’s hardened by exercise,

made strong by deep, regular breathing.

Our bodies move together like a single, fluid organism

within this dimly lit cocoon,

everyone familiar with each other’s limitations

and strengths. It’s one hour of unspoken intimacy.

We pass through positions,

spreading our arms into clean lines,

legs bending into warriors, rocking upwards

into happy babies, planting our palms firmly

like cats, chairs. Everyone is transforming,

their bodies growing lighter

and lighter, soaring …

— Her stare hooks onto my rolling shoulders,

and minor irritation blooms on my forehead

like an open wound.

In the communal change room

amidst all the rituals and perfumed sweat,

she comes up to me with her hair wet

while I’m putting on my clothes and apologizes,

she didn’t mean to be rude, cause alarm.

I turn away. She follows me to the mirror and watches me

snap the cord of the hairdryer, plug it in, turn it on.

From behind she softly explains that she couldn’t break her gaze

because I look just like her daughter at nineteen,

right before the cancer came.

We stare at each other’s reflections,

the infuriating noise of the dryer

becoming a dull droplet of sound

in my cold, wet ears. Her arms are folded

around her tiny body like a frightened child

abandoned in a long stretch of aisle.

There are two moles on her neck,

and far too many lines on her face

trying to hold together a steady expression.

Amidst the bang-bang noises,

I can feel my mouth go dry.

I can hear myself breathing.