So I ask Robert, the trainer who lives next door, what the neighbor rate is on a workout, and he teaches me to squat with my heels on the ground, to crunch with one leg bent high above my waist.

He wraps my hands in tape and teaches me to stand with one foot perpendicular to the other, to rotate my torso into a right hook, to jab-step-jab, until one afternoon I’m in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror examining a new hill of a trapezius, shadow on an also-new valley of collarbone, a whole geography I’d forgotten was beneath all those years of over-growth, all that neglect.

When I hold up two gloved hands, Robert holds up his own open palms, and I clip and I hook and I cross until my biceps are so heavy I start to step sideways, to wobble, and Robert says, “Come on now, think of someone you hate; think of the girl in the red car.”

I stop, and I ask, “What do you know about the girl in the red car?”—the girl who, weeks earlier, took the corner into the alley too quickly and nearly ran over my dog as he enjoyed a leisurely pee at the end of his leash, the girl who, when confronted, gingerly set down her three-month-old on the sidewalk and spit in my face before speed-walking up the stairs to her apartment when I called the police.

Robert says he saw the whole thing, hid behind his own blinds when the police bleated their sirens at the girl’s window, and so I picture her, and I post up and connect with the ball of Robert’s hand like it’s the first punch of the day, and he laughs, and I smile, and I say, “I hope she walks by and sees how bad ass I look,” and he says, “From the looks of her, she hasn’t walked anywhere in years.”

And damn how quickly I forgot that some sucker punches take barely any sweat at all to throw. How easy it was to believe that, of course, we are not people who are kind or unkind, well-intentioned or ill-intentioned: we are people who are big or small.

I look up at Robert, and I think I am about to say something about bodies, about hearts. Instead I see myself in the mirror behind him, and I know that if I have to choose, if I can have a say as to what the boys in the gym tell each other about me, I want to be on this side of the punch line, and I don’t know what other loveless atrocities I will allow to keep myself from being the girl without the name, the girl with the collarbone lost to time.

I look at Robert. I keep looking at Robert. I flex my sweat-wet fingers inside the bulk of the boxing gloves. I think my mouth is about to speak.

Instead my elbow tucks into body.

Instead I punch again.


Sarah Carson is the author of two full-length poetry collections–Poems in which You Die and Buick City–along with several chapbooks. Born and raised in Michigan, she now lives in Chicago with her two dogs.

Photo by Heather Kresge