Jordy paid me seventeen dollars and two peach
White Owls to box his cousin in a clearing
where you could see, if you craned,
the cursing lights of cars on his overpass.
His because he painted there, smoked and I think
sometimes slept. The mosquitos were crazy that year—
plump, whiskered things, and I was moving fast
if only to slip sick neck tickles in the night-wet air,
moving too because Jordy thought it’d be funny
to give Raul regular sparring gloves
and for me to wear some Incredible Hulk Gamma
Green Smash Hands he’d found in his basement,
moving to parry
plodded jabs with these veined foam fists
that yelled in the superhero’s comically
guttural voice if you smacked them hard enough
either together or against something else.
It only took five punches for the plastic handle
inside the left one to snap, tear through the foam
and rake a glistening track into Raul’s cheek.
I’m the one calling it, Jordy said, and I have not
The mosquitos were crazy
that year and curtailed an otherwise drawn-out
summer, nights cut short when training outside
became unbearable, so we trained inside instead
and came out in September a company of lean,
pale apostles. The ground was beginning to cool.
We used the word shook in every sentence.
Why are you acting so shook? We had them shook,
man. Believe I wasn’t shook, though. That night
Jordy and I walked the cutback trail to the clearing
where he kicked the dirt around in a few places,
dropped into a squat and double-handed dig,
excavated a jagged plastic handle and walked
towards me, staring at it like a divining rod.
On borrowing your sister’s foundation, any of the shudders her body releases
when she fails at holding your face as she weeps. On Floyd Patterson and the kisses
he’d place on the foreheads of the men he knocked out, how he’d pull them up,
slumped in their corners, to make the eight-count and just hug them for a while.
On being driven home from the tournament through slumbering summer dusk.
Fields swept at a speed into song. Someone whistles how heart is heart and has little
to do with the thickness of your neck. Because you are a slight boy, bent to bring home
no violence. On slightness, though it cannot carry much. On bearing, or how to handle
men when to hurt them was never the point. On where to tilt the bulb so the bruises
turn to shadows.
Jess Williard’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The New Orleans Review, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Oxford Poetry and other journals. He was a 2016 finalist for the Janet B. McCabe Prize in poetry from Ruminate Magazine and lives in Illinois.