& he is—a rarity in this world where we use hyperbole to mean something truer than fact: show-stopper, human wrecking-ball, the most beautiful woman in our world. He is stronger than the two of us put together, I promise you that, as my arms are not as large as his & yours are smaller than mine, delicate in their existence. When we imagine the world’s strongest man, what do we imagine: someone with shoulders that block out the sun, the uprooting of every tree, the ability to push a trailer with one hand—a comic book character with a square jaw and a bright smile, chiseled from white marble, an Atlas that has climbed to the other side of the world & left it spinning on its axis. Instead, he is someone who would never be drawn: dark skin, rough beard, as heavy as the weight he can lift.
I think of him as a child as I think of myself as a child: thick waist, double-chinned. My mother would drive me to the gym and leave me there amongst iron. I would walk between the machines with names I could never pronounce; I would look at drawings of sinews and bone disbelieving that those red muscles pulled taught existed in me somewhere underneath all that I am. I could do all of this if I had the right shoes. I could do all of this if I were prepared: shorts longer, wrists taped, fingers interwoven and pressed out in front of my chest as a signal that it is time to get to work. Instead, I would walk; eyes on the conveyor below, my neck pulling towards the ground as I watched shoelace flop over leather, lamenting the fact that this is all wrong: that to be the world’s strongest man is to not only know what strength is, but to know what the world holds.
When the world’s strongest man bleeds, it is red. His heart does not pump sugar water, his blood is not thinner than any of ours. The world’s strongest man picks a person you love up in the air: he places his hands underneath their arms and pushes the person you love towards the sky until they are resting on his shoulder, his beard brushing against the side of their stomach. He asks you what does this person do and before you start to tell him about the beauty of it all, the blue nights, the hands in hands, the world’s strongest man, chalk underneath his fingernails, loses his grip. This person that you love falls to the floor. You do not have the heart to tell him that this person does not do anything now: you do not have the heart to tell him any of these things—that the world’s strongest man reads things backwards, that he has lost a child, that loving him is a joke that weaker men play on him, that he is not what we pictured him to be, that he cannot be run through. You do not tell him any of this because he is the world’s strongest man, and this is what he knows to be true: that eight hundred pounds is eight hundred pounds, that the iron does not lie, that you can lift something or you cannot.
After the world’s strongest man dies, I will be the world’s strongest man. When I am the world’s strongest man, I will tell the world this story: when I was a child, we were the same. I would stop walking. I would sit and watch the television screens: here is someone not as strong as the world’s strongest man being praised for his strength, here is a woman on trial. I would dunk my head under water like a baptism, like I had just won all of the things that the world wished to offer me—I would wipe the water on my shirt. I will hold my breath; I will be red in the face. I have worked hard for this. I am wearing the wrong shoes. You will laugh and I will laugh because what a beautiful story that is: that the truth here is simple: there is nothing here besides the willingness to grasp what is perceived as impossible to hold.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of four collections, So You Know It’s Me, Come See For Yourself, Level End & the forthcoming Leave Luck to Heaven. He is working on a collection of lyric essays about professional wrestlers.