Neuro-Muscular – Judith Barrington

The brain talks to the feet
and the feet talk back, unless
of course, they’re not the talkative kind
or just a little slow to get the message.

Messages travel along nerves
like telephone wires sagging
between poles, runways for squirrels
or roosting spots for gloating crows.

Try to picture a nerve running down
inside a leg: is it a fishing line, a thread
of cobweb, or perhaps a strand of white hair?
And what of the gene that messed it up—

diagrammed in medical books as a double helix,
twisted, intertwined ribbons suggesting
the number eight? Does the damaged one
look a little sheepish next to its healthy mates?

And here’s another question: which parent
gave it to me?—unknowingly passed on the gift
of an inheritance, not the sort to invest
but one that numbs my toes, sends me

toppling face-first onto the sidewalk,
forces me to learn words like myelin and
mitochondrial protein. My mother’s feet
were as ugly as mine, which makes her

the chief suspect, though like me she
carried on walking dogs and dreaming of
her heyday on the tennis court. At night
I toss the ball, drop my racket behind

my shoulder and swing high overhead.
My aces defy the frayed threads of nerves
and garbled messages caught in cobwebs.
At night my mother and I are both champions.