Poem with Partial History of the Deadlift

My husband loves the part in Les Misérables 
when a man pinned under the wheels of a cart

is begging for help, but no one in that busy
marketplace moves to rescue him except

for the ex-convict Jean Valjean AKA Mayor
Madeleine. Valjean crawls beneath the cart

and with nearly superhuman strength lifts it
to free the man. In my opinion this counts

as a deadlift, which according to all
the dictionaries I've consulted

literally means the lifting of a dead
weight from the ground, oftentimes from

a squatting position. Javert, the town's
police inspector, is instantly reminded

of the only man he's ever seen do such
a thing— a prisoner who can't quite shuck

his thieving habits and is on the lam again
soon after his release. Then there's the stone

that archaeologists unearthed from ancient
times in Olympia, Greece, with a handprint

on it and the inscription "Bybon, son of Phola,
lifted me over his head with one hand." I don't

know anything else about Bybon, but this week I read
on social media a story about a seven-year-old boy

of Filipino and Hmong ancestry who's training
to deadlift three times his weight; he says he

owes his strength to his favorite food, lumpia.
When I tell this story to a new poet friend,

he thinks I'm talking about the cumbia, a dance
originating in Panama or Colombia, in which

partners step back then front, front then back,
while rhythmically swaying hips and arms to mild

percussion. To dance passably well you can't
drag your feet around like stones, so there's that

to be said about a kind of similarity to what
the weightlifter aims to do: hoist a weight even

for a few clean seconds, in seeming defiance of
the gravity that keeps wanting to take us down

to our usual abject position in mud and muck.
So we want to wrap our hands around the merest

gleam of silver, to use our body as both boulder
and lever until it comes loose in one smooth move.




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