(Ed note: We're pleased to bring you the Los Angeles Review of Books coverage of the 2012 Olympics. To read the complete series, click here.)
MY HUSBAND AND I are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting for inevitable bad news. We are sharing the Olympic Preview edition of Sports Illustrated from July 23rd because we’ve already read all the copies of People, Time, and Country Living. Over the last month, we have read every magazine in the waiting room twice over, except for this one, which is new, so we turn the pages together, and I try to figure out who is favored for Trampoline, a sport I agreed to write an essay on, though I know little to nothing about it.
For the past five years, we’ve lived in a mountainous part of Southwest Virginia — in the New River Valley, which is part of the Great Appalachian Valley. We are 30 miles from the West Virginia border. In our neighborhood, as in much of rural and suburban America, trampolines are a regular backyard fixture. They lie somewhere on the scale between ATVs and cars up on blocks, about on par with an aboveground pool. They are dangerous, the opposite of classy, and extremely fun. You can pick up a 15-foot round trampoline with a netted safety enclosure for $278 at the local Walmart in Christiansburg.
“You know the biggest story of the Olympics, right?” Steve says.
“No,” I tell him. I have no idea what the biggest story of the Olympics is. The enormous waiting room is empty but for us. The doctor has let us come during his lunch hour, so we can have more time with him. While we wait, a team of four hospital inspectors walk in with clipboards, looking like some kind of Olympic committee.
“It’s the competition between Blake and Bolt in the 100 and 200. Blake just works his ass off and Bolt claims he’s so good that he doesn’t need to.” Steve points to the pull quote in Sports Illustrated. “Nobody is going to run past me. I don’t worry,” says Usain Bolt, currently the fastest man on earth.
I am a champion worrier, but I was never a cutthroat opponent. As a poet, I am well-versed in failure. As a poet, I’ve found ways to compete sideways, take the less traveled paths. I write narrative poems. I write poems about sex and women’s bodies and babies. I write poems about Walmart. Apparently Trampoline gymnasts feel similarly. He Wenna, the 2008 gold medal winner in Women’s Trampoline, started as an Artistic Gymnast, but later switched to trampoline. In an interview, she said there were a lot of wonderful gymnasts in China, so it was very hard to become outstanding; I’m going to try Tramp, she said. One of my writing teachers, years ago, told me that it’s not his most talented students who go on to become career poets, but the most tenacious of them — the ones who just never stop.
I am tenacious. We have been trying to have a second child for the past three years. After cycles of medical treatments, and one disrupted adoption placement, we decided to try a last hail-Mary round of doctor’s appointments this month, where they found, years into our struggles, that my body has an injury from my son’s birth that they may or may not be able to correct. Some days, my body is an enemy, a source of shame; other days, I feel sorry for it, trying its best, not catching a break. “My self-betraying body needs to grieve,” writes Marilyn Hacker. There will be more travel and tests. There will be more waiting in doctors’ offices, in social workers’ offices. I have grown graceful at waiting.
It is Wednesday and I’m still trying to write this essay on poetry and Trampoline. I’m looking up terminology, reading about history. The trampoline was invented in the 1930s in a garage in Iowa by George Nissen, a University of Iowa gymnast, diver and inventor, who had, at one time, been a part of a traveling acrobatics act called the Three Leonardos. Nissen’s Spanish nickname while he was on tour with the act was "Campeón de Trampolin” — Champion of the Diving Board — and thus, the Trampoline was born and trademarked to the Nissen Trampoline Company.