August-September 2014

Strength Training

Ryan Frisinger


An old hand grip with red plastic handles,

the kind that jocks and bodybuilders walk around squeezing,

turning fore into five-arms and biceps to skin-colored cannonballs.

Belonged to my father,

but for the past seventeen years, it’s been living homeless, drifting between cardboard boxes,

Keepsakes to Miscellaneous to Garage Sale and back again.

Used to smell faintly of him,

just perspiration actually, absorbed into the porous plastic after hours of bicep-building,

but the closet life has since purged the sweat scent.

Besides the dimming picture of the red handles handled by my father’s sun-reddened hands,

while he watched football and kicked the footstool in frustration,

face flashing to match hands and handles,

the object seems foreign,


visitor from a strange planet

where parents come in twos and children spend their weeks and weekends in the same house.


Had a partner once, the hand grip, after all, what good is a single hand grip.

Who wants one strong arm and one weakling, one cannonball and one misfire.

Unfortunately, the twin never made it out, for all I know, it’s still hanging around the old house,

maybe left for dead in the wire bin, buried in hand weights and resistance bands,

maybe still useful, biding its time on the footstool waiting for football.

Maybe the new wife picked it up, squeezed her way to tighter toned arms, one at a time,

firmed up some of the baby weight.


I remember well, not fondly, the last time I used its brother,

at ten years old, I could barely squeeze the grips closed with both hands.

Wasn’t in it just for the biceps,

more the sweat smell in the handles, it’d been two days since I’d had the real thing.

Half my parents’ bed lay empty, king-sized question on my mind,

when she didn’t know the answer, my mom unrolled a sleeping bag on the floor

next to my father’s dresser. Before I laid me down to sleep, I stole it from his things to keep.

Prayed and prayed, just like mom told me to,

squeezed and squeezed, just like dad told me to.

Prayers didn’t work,

or maybe God was just running late, busy watching football. Dad came home,

but only after the rest of us had moved out-of-state.

Squeezing didn’t either,

all-night workout and no muscle to show for it.

I’ll never again waste time on something that silly, and that goes for the squeezing too.

Besides, the other hand grip is still lying there,

maybe in the bin, on the footstool, and what good is one without the other.

No one wants one strong arm and one weakling, one cannon and one misfire,

one house on weekdays and another on weekends.

My parents never worked out, why should I.


Ryan Frisinger is a professor of English, holding an M.F.A. in Writing from Lindenwood University. He is also an accomplished songwriter, whose work has been featured in numerous television shows, such as America’s Next Top Model and The Real World. His non-musical writing has appeared in publications like Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and The MacGuffin. He resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his more-talented wife and couldn’t-care-less cat.


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