a new shirt makes me uncomfortable with my belly and it’ll take more practice to build the strength for tears

yesterday a friend asked me 
if i wanted to 
make a few bucks 
moving rocks. 
i asked for more 
details and 
she sent a picture of 
the rocks. the pictured rocks
looked too big 
to move alone and
by hand and 
without a level of exertion 
that outstripped my desire 
for twenty dollars. 
and so i said 
as much, 
to which she replied 
that her husband could
move them by himself. 
her saying this 
bothered me 
when she said it. and then
it bothered me 
later that evening. 
and then this morning 
it bothered me 
while i moved
thousands of pounds of 
gravel by bucket
and hand. 

was i this morning moving 
gravel to prove 
my strength? well,
i did it as that is how 
i slide a few twenty dollar 
bills into my sock drawer.
what does this tell me
about my sense 
of value
and how i define 
my worth? 

it is evidently still 
important to me, many years 
after having last played 
a competitive contact sport, 
to be thought of 
and seen
as powerful. 
this can really only 
speak to my feelings 
of frailty, my worry 
of ineptitude.

i am toting buckets
of gravel by hand; 
would one with worth do
such a thing? and,
is worth dependent
on the ability to avoid 
pain or endure

earlier in the morning, 
prior to hand-holding 
with gravel-cradling 
buckets, i set fire 
to a large pile of limbs 
and debris,
on a Pacific Ocean beach 
gifted by low tide. 
the fire billowed and flared. 
my face, cleansed with soot. 
the burning pile releasing 
smoke of white and 
yellow. smoke of olive 
green and black. still-hot
ash gently returned to 
the beach on cooling columns 
of air. some of these 
diving embers 
clung to my face, startling 
me with their burning. 

my face wears hot 
from the shame of my 
labor. the weight
of the rocks i did not
carry, pinning 
my mind to antiquated measures
of worth.

the sky wore its clouds white, 
the ash from the fire, floating 
white. i flinched with startle 
when what i thought to be
another searing strike 
of burning ash upon face, 
revealed itself as weightless 

Matthew Wong. 2017. “The Journey Home”

Published by Zak

an intertidal island in an ocean of impermanence.

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