LIFE IN THE RING (circa 1948)
They always had ringside seats
having skimped and saved so I could train at Gleason's
mom and pop now sat stiffly, small rivulets of sweat
slowly staining my father's shirtsleeves.
Surrounded by yahoos from South Ozone
who reeked of violence and Rupert's 25 cent beer,
my parents were immobile, worried if they moved
they'd throw off my concentration.
As the worn surface of my Everlast boxing shoes
touched the canvas, I was more afraid of looking at
pop than my opponent. The bell rang and I approached
the aging champ whose belt I had come to take.
I stalked him, testing his defenses, easily parrying
his punches, waiting for my opening, sounds of
the jeering crowd barely reaching my cauliflower ears.
"Kill him!" they chanted, but the champ's fans were drowned
out by the thump of my knuckles pushing through my
16 ounce gloves to the brittle bones of his face.
Three minutes later, his eyes puffy scallops, his face a
blood spattered batik, I watched his corner-man apply
ice and uselessly egg him on.
I looked to those two seats beyond the rope for a simple
"thumbs up", saw faces pinched, frozen in fear.
Round two, he came out bobbing and weaving, a wily
warrior who'd trampled kids like me when gloves were
a novelty. I knew the champ, twelve years my senior,
was fighting his last battle.
He managed to land a stiff right, crunching the cartilage
in my nose with an ominous crackling sound.
I thought I heard my father's breath catch.
As if awoken from a dream, I unleashed a flurry of
punches, slowly at first, till I found my rhythm, adrenalin
and fists pumping, and no longer felt pain in my nose.
By the fifteenth round, we both moved in slo-mo,
my legs sodden and leaden, but the old man was still
standing. I guess they don't give away belts for free.
My vision skewed with exhaustion and sweat,
I remembered the words of my coach:
"The knockout punch is like putting an egg on a mantelpiece."
He crumpled in an instant. I stood alone, a champion at last!
I turned to savor a look I'd waited for all my life, but the two seats were empty.