The Blood I Can Draw
By Tony Brown

Joe Frazier’s left hooks
were on my mind
right after I turned eleven
and had just listened
to the Fight Of The Century
on a scratchy AM radio
under my covers
a few nights before, so

although I was a righty
I threw one at Jeff Maxwell’s jaw
in the middle school gym
and (though we were just playing,
no animus between us)
I laid him out
flat and crying, and I admit
it felt OK to see him there, sliding
on his ass away from me as I tried
to explain it was all in fun to Mr. Tornello
as he shook me and dragged me to
his sweat-soaked office to await
my parents.

Right jabs and Muhammad Ali
were on my mind
a few years later when Henry Gifford
got dropped, this time in anger,
on the shores of Thompson’s Pond
for cussing me out over losing my mind
over his breaking my switchblade,

and this time
there was blood on his mouth
and I admit it felt OK
to see it shining moonlit black
on his face and I was glad
that I hadn’t had the knife in hand
at the time.

Kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee
were much on my mind a few years after that
when it felt OK to deliver
a straight-arm open palm blow to the side
of Joe Peron’s nose in a work dispute,
and there was blood again
and the gentle snap of his bridge breaking,
and he knelt holding his nose in his hands
that soaked and dripped in blood,
and that felt better than OK for a minute
and because we were men we just shook it off
and told no one of the fight, but Joe steered clear of me
after that, and I felt fine.

They are all on my mind again
and I can’t shake off
being old and fat,
and weak and poor,
and thoughtful
about how much harder I could hit today
now that I know how it feels to be hit.
How good it felt then,
and how good it would feel again
if the opponents I have now could be
dispatched that easily.

In despair of the unpunchable bills,
the bloodless banks, the ravenous
creditors, the creeping sense
of having no enemy now I can beat,
I just stand in the kitchen
thrashing the kitchen air –
cross, jab, hook, uppercut,
palm strike, temple strike,
slash and stab, icepick grip,
sword grip, kick a support
off a rickety chair.

I was a bully once.
I had such narrow eyes,
fixed always upon the easily defeated.
Now my eyes are wide
and all I have to fight’s
in the mirror —

but the urge
to admire again
the blood I know I can draw,
to know the joy of winning
simply and quickly,

is almost more than I can bear.

Tony Brown is a regular contributor to Radius. This poem will appear in the anthology, Seeing the Unseen.