The Spiritual Exercises

By Lisa Ampleman

Everyone on television is apologizing.
      I’m sorry I kissed your sister. I’m sorry
I sold the dog. 
We watch, each with our own

TV screen we walk or run toward. The treadmills’
      wheels whine louder and louder.
In the strength training area, a man grunts

and drops a heavy weight. I wish I hadn’t eaten
      so many foods with high fructose corn syrup.
I’m sorry I got you addicted to sugar.

On one wall-mounted TV, two men in an octagon
      with netted sides try to kick each other
in the face. When one pins the other,

he moves gradually, pulling the loser’s arm
      further up, maximum pain. The other
struggles to buck him off. It makes me feel sick.

There are two minutes left in the round.
      I’m sorry I voted against you. I didn’t come here
to make friends. A few men shout

as they play hoops on a half court,
      but the rest of us are silent and alone
in our movement. We must contort our bodies

to give them fitness, here in the kingdom
      of calisthenics, our feet dully hitting
the treads. I’m useless; I can’t get rid of

this stack of Sears Catalogs
      or this broken walking cane. I’m sorry

that the house is full of trash.

“Exercises,” too, Ignatius called
      the spiritual retreats that “have
as their purpose the conquest of self.”

Let us meditate. Let us discern.
      Let us increase the reps,
more curls than last week. I’m sorry

I don’t have anything to give you.
      The woman next to me
jumps onto the still frame of her machine

to check her pulse. The belt keeps rolling
      through the flywheel and rotors.
Her television show is reaching its end;

it’s one I’ve seen before.
      The couple made of colored pixels
charged with light is reconciling:

I’m sorry I doubted you. I don’t know
      what I was thinking.
I’m sorry I gave you cause to doubt.

Lisa Ampleman is the author of two books of poetry, Romances (LSU Press, 2020), and Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State UP, 2012). She lives in Cincinnati, where she is the managing editor of The Cincinnati Review and poetry series editor at Acre Books.

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