Asheville School sophomore Elli Efird has received a 2019 Gold Key award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for her poem, "Exercise Machine."
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards pair with organizations around the United States to recognize student artists in regional and national competitions. According to their website, "the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the nation's longest running, most prestigious visual and literary arts program recognizing creative accomplishments of students in grades 7-12."
Works are first judged by regional panels and given awards in three primary categories: Gold Key, Silver Key and Honorable Mention. As a Gold Key recipient, Efird's work will be sent to New York and considered for a national Scholastic Award.
Join us in wishing Elli Efird Congratulations!
By: Elli Efird
the machine operating inside yourself.
We hide our reasons...
One's body: a collection of numbers representing capabilities; yellowed poster on the infirmary wall.
Love can develop for your pains,
self-testing becomes second-nature.
Deep inside of you
(the residence of "fitness")
has risen to a changeable surface.
Put the conveyor belt under our feet,
run as if chased by devils.
Inclined planes, pins, levers, pulleys, locks, winches, racks, and belts of the Nautilus;
Blood pressure is hydraulics, strength is mechanics, nutrition is combustion, limbs are levers, joints are ball-and-sockets.
Mirrored gym wall:
Faces associated with pain, with tears, with the sort of exertion that would call others to your immediate aid.
Tracking your heart rate on display,
you groan, huff, shout, strain, repeat.
Better named a "health club";
an implied contract links everyone who works out in its mirrored and pungent hangar.
Coexist but do not look closely;
A virulent practice of conformism.
Hidden flesh becomes public front-
wipe down the metal handlebars and rubber mats as if you had not left a trace
Gym resembles a voluntary hospital-
its staff members are also its patients.
Lines of numbers. So many calories...miles...watts...laps.
A nurse takes the basic measurements of your height and weight-never to your satisfaction.
Numbers correlate with your chances of survival.
How do we acquire the courage to exist as a set of numbers?
The haste to live one's mortal life diminishes;
the temptation toward perpetual preservation grows.
We preserve the living corpse in an optimal state, not so we may do anything with it, but for its own good feelings of eternal fitness, confidence, and safety.
No one will inherit our good health after we've gone.
We spend our time desperately,
materialistic gratifications of a hedonic society,
but the feelings cannot last.
Our justification: thinness.
A young person conceives sexual desirability
as the truth about herself most worth defending.
The young exerciser suffers from missing one or two days of exercise;
Adults keep up an outward show of juvenescence.
Girl of twenty-two is a paradoxical figure as an exemplar of exercise:
she knows her destiny,
she starts immediately to get ahead in the race;
barest minimum of flesh.
Person who does not exercise=slow suicide
in our current conception.
It is a comfort to remember
when one of your parents' acquaintances dies
that he did not eat well or failed to take up running.
Nonexerciser is lumped with other unfortunates whom we socially dis-count.
The body suffers a new humiliation
in the deeper crime of merely existing as the unregulated, the unshaped, the unsexy, the "unfit".
Doctrine of thinness: a radical fantasy.
Will to annihilate the unattractive body;
an undercurrent of hatred for this corrupt human form
that continually undoes the labor you invest in it.
Individual who judges the total healthiness of his state at each moment,
alternating satisfaction and disappointment,
based on what he ate, what he drank, how much he exercised...
Biological processes made a source of shame and inferiority.
One feels unhealthy even when the body is fine.
One's own flesh starts to seem like the Sisyphean boulder.
Certain pleasure emerges from the unending struggle.
Disciplining of a depraved will,
Women strip their bodies of layers of fat to reveal a shape without its normal excess of flesh,
Dieted and exercised and restrained.
Incipient musculature that no worldly activity could bring out like this
makes Incredible Hulks of men.
Once this body-altering begins,
it is more implacable than death.
We find that nutrition makes one fat rather than well fed.
Health and sex are the places we demand our truth today.
With willpower and sufficient discipline,
the straightening of yourself to a rule,
you will be changed.
Athletics in the ancient institution,
Was the preeminent place to promote systematic education of the young
and for adults to carry on casual debates among themselves...
the origin of Western philosophy.
Women have freed themselves from corsets worn externally,
only to make an internal corset.
Physical traits that were formerly considered repellent
become marks of sexual superiority.
Once voluptuous feminine flesh:
starved away in natural form
and selectively replaced with breast implants, collagen injections, buttock lifts...
Men and women are more ashamed of their own actual bodies
than in pre-gym past;
More obsession and self-hatred.
Real historic changes are accomplished on a gym's vinyl mats.
Our practices are turning us inside out.
a flooding of consciousness with a numbered and regulated body
Distraction from living that comes with endless life-maintenance
An ever-receding horizon.
'Condemned. Condemned. Condemned," chant the machines.
The thinness we strive for becomes spiritual.
This is not the future we wanted.
scratching the truth from the inside out.
The above piece is a found poem based on Mark Grief's Best American Essay "Against Exercise;" from his essay collection entitled Against Everything. What follows is an MLA citation of the source:
Greif, Mark. Against Everything: Essays. Vintage Books, 2017.