I slip my fingertips into the holes and
drag the horse-hide down to the knuckles.
It chafes. The digits swell red and thick.
You don't need circulation to grip the bar.
Just fists and grunted curses and the arc of the spine
diverting gravity, keeping it distracted.

Strips of leather can't do everything. I feel them
buzzing, a stinging you can nearly hear from calluses
stretched and eroded by the body's torque. The skin's
shorn loose. Ready to rip. Jonah's already has.
He's thrown himself aside with palm upturned
to the chalky, humming overconditioned air.
I bury my hands in the crumble of dust
and rub them 'round with my eyes on
somewhere else. He's hunching, growling,
ramming his bare back against
a frigid concrete pillar as he strips away
the useless skin. He eats the scrap
licks the blood off his hands, shows off
the wound and grins clenched teeth at
no one in particular. Before I can clap my hands
to finish the warm-up ritual, he's on the bar again.
No chalk. No bandages. He'll go like this all night.

When I rip, I'll crouch in a corner with a roll of tape
and waste it with half-assed dressings—wrap, unwrap, rewrap
improving on my handicraft band-aids instead of
staring at the other guys 'til it's time to limp home.
I won't be back up doing giants,
making the bar moan with my weight.
I won't be letting go, rocketing off, pulling double-fronts
like the space between ceiling and cement would never end.
That's for guys like Jonah. With muscles and animal balance
and pick-up trucks and summer jobs and girlfriends.
You watch. When I'm up there, wrenching through the motions
with the skin of my palms tearing nerve by nerve I'll
swing...
swing...
strain...

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