Prize Fighters

by Christine Adams Beckett

Two bodies, bouncing hopefully
On their toes, in control,
Defensive and lithe,
Hold their arms at right angles,
Protecting crooked noses
Scarred eyelids, swollen cheeks.

One of them suffers the first punch.
Sporadic stabs in response
To offenses, punctuate
A bobbing frightened head;
Yet the throws themselves
Seem like defensive maneuvers.

Shorts, baggy, drawstring
Moistened with sweat from
Pointless work, cut a
Fit but damaged body in half.
Shoulders on one end,
Blemished and shining,
Muscles contracting,
Retracting, coming and
Going, straining, exhausting.
Lower half, severed,
Sinewy quadriceps speak to
Responsive hamstrings trailing to
Cruciate ligaments, calves
And the Achilles tendon.

Onlookers dodge,
Groan sympathetically
To every mule kick of a punch
Weakening each participant.
Throwing them back to a
Vulnerable heel stance,
They teeter, sway, innocent
And desperate to avoid
Knock out.

A ringing bell, indiscernible
From a traumatic buzz,
Tinnitus muffles the shouts
From a child, watching through
Parted fingers, lips slicing his
Face in pain. Swollen lids,
Dripping sweat from drenched
Eyebrows make sight
Impossible.

Dismissed to their respective corners
Draped over stools and ring ropes
Like useless dirty towels, one
Drinks water in dribbling gulps
Fed to him by a feisty enabler.
The other grimaces under the
Slice of a razor blade,
Freeing trapped life blood
In a red stream mixed with
The salt of other fluids.

The lightened lid, unburdened
Blinded by light and hope
Returns to the center of the ring
To meet his opponent. Peppering
Feet, recognizing the beauty
Of sight and falling backwards
In a plunge, an exercise in trust,
White lights of the stadium blinding
His opened eyes to
A white tunnel of spirals
Like a near-life experience.

One absurdly inflated glove
Is raised in shameful
Victory and the other watches
In relief that it’s over. In a gesture
Hidden in sportsmanlike conduct
One hears it, clearly:
“I’ve got nothin’ but love for you, Man.”