Boxing in August : Twelve (Plus) Ways of Gazing at a Championship Ring (& Sky)
by Jennifer Schneider
1 :: Upon reading that Muhammed Ali was banned from boxing for three years, I wondered what he did come August. This August. That August. When all drafts are welcome, and all quarrels quick(er) to quiet. When late afternoon skies toss gentle punches that morph into early evening sunsets. When dusk dances the tango (1). Sometimes the waltz. And baby bats flap wings. Eyes open wide. No prior experience needed. Altos and sopranos welcome. The sky a championship ring of pastel hues and potpourri happenstance. The world its spectator. Pollen as participatory as play. Tickets fall / free for all. Chirps and chatter belt (and boast) colloquial conversation. All notes on target. Neither breath (nor bouts) targeted.
2 :: I used to watch boxing match-ups and meet-ups (Leonard versus Hearns; Foreman versus Lyle. Ali versus the world) on a 12-inch black and white tv. I’d spend summer evenings on painfully undersized corduroy couches (first olive, then plaid) seated between painfully average-sized elders. Athletic greatness neither in (or of) my DNA. All elbows bruised and brushed of talcum and time. Powder not only for the ring. We’d consume popcorn (with butter) and peanuts (with salt). All cushions puffed and primed for prime time. We’d chill fruit punch (2) and plan schedules around live matches and televised reruns. All gazes locked. All limbs loaded. I’d cup my palms, hoping to catch stray beads of sweat that came like the rain. All broadcasts grainy. All skies dry.
3 :: I’d spend nights munching ginger snap cookies and drinking leftover Hawaiian (fruit-flavored) punch. I’d listen for the bells of the Softee truck (3) and flip through boxing magazines and wonder how Ali packed punches and hooked snaps all while the world was his spectator. The TV Guide confirmed all suspicions. Ali was featured in six television broadcasts and infinitely more guides. The six broadcasts reached over one billion viewers. Proof of life behind screens and stars. Proof of life in prime time.
4 :: Some nights, I’d walk while I wondered. And I wandered while I walked. Some rings more flexible than others. Metal fences faded as fog foiled (& toiled). Wild brush beckoned. I’d tread cautiously. More prone to bobs than battles. I knew punches persisted both in and outside of formal rings. I’d seen them – ringside at the kitchen table. Sunny-side up on front porches (4). Sharp jabs over two percent milk. Below the belt punches while brushing away morning breath at the rowhome’s upstairs (single) bath. Tussles for toilets. Spars for soap. I also knew that lightning strikes not only trees, but also discontent (and dissent). Mostly, I’d walk under a ring of stars and connect the dots.
5 :: I’d pull on cotton trousers and tie-dye tees. I’d pair matches and meet ups. Orion versus Ursa Major. Gemini versus Leo. Lyra versus Scorpius. All lights on (5). My bets (and belts) based as much on instinct as indoctrination. Do you know what I mean? The types of tales and talk consumed while you think no one (including yourself) is watching. Even so, the pairings remained as unconventional as the contemplation. Most attention on wars not of sky but of ground and land.
6 :: I’d wait for a shooting star to break most ties. Some nights, I’d rely on the dragon flies. Sparkles of sugar (sometimes spice) to my right and left. I’d exhale dragon breath and trace monsters in shadows and skies. All of us hand puppets. All of us eager to claim front row seats. Ali would become the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions. I’d count one, two, three clusters (all stars) in the night sky. Ali would also go on to defend – successfully – this (his) title nineteen times. I’d count, fourteen, fifteen, to nineteen stars in the sky. All the world’s a spectator. The sky a ring (6).
7 :: Most nights, I’d read (7) then walk until my eyes felt heavy. I’d think often of a young Ali. The one who held his hands unconventionally low. The one who did not hesitate to back away from punches. I’d bob along concrete, rub rubber soles across the small pockets of air where asphalt met gravel and arch my neck. I’d track perimeters around imaginary rings. You can do that. Did you know the rings around stars are made of water ice and dust particles? I learned that water evaporates (the dog’s bowl just as much proof as the day’s tears) and dust dissipates (& often accumulates in drafts and corners). The draft was a dream of some, but not all. Ali refused.
8 :: I’d wonder what Ali dreamed of after days spent dancing in the ring. Wounds to lick (8). Stances in constant states of shuffle. Balls of feet in constant states of prance. All fibers on fire. All performances primed to pounce. And what rings he tracked while banned. Eventually, I’d return to my bed then drift to sleep. I’d dream of names and numbers. Sixty-one total fights. Fifty-six wins. Thirty-seven by knock-out. Eager to connect all dots. All constellations curiously connected. Even the greatest stars bare many names. Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. A lad destined for greatness. Ultimately, “The Great”. All stars both a process and a product. Even young stars are primed to make their own solar systems. And their own rings. Constellations also carriers of many names. And many images. Did you know Ursa Major has presented (sometimes simultaneously) as a bear, a wagon, and a ladle? I prefer the bear.
9 :: I’d stir then trace shadows on ceilings. Of bears and wagons and ladles. Daffodil spouts (9). The night sky a canvas. All windows open. All linens layered of lace and longing. At the center of a ring called Milky Way, I’d locate Sagittarius. Connect star bursts. Collect messier objects. Connect the Omega Nebula, the Lagoon, the Trifid. All dots aligned. All binoculars on. Global clusters fully engaged. All fibers fired. Rainbow-hued shells of gas and meteor showers would sprinkle drops. Both sweaty and sweet.
10 :: I saw poetry (& promise) in the sky the same way Ali saw it in the ring. Did you know that he read poetry (out loud) as a way to raise public interest in his fights? He’d toss phrases in quick one-two punch succession. Strings of text such as “float like a butterfly” and “sting like a bee.” Only later did I realize the sky’s a universal ring (10). Open to wrestlers. To tussles. To all. The Greatest strung syllables as easily as he packed punches. He’d “wrestle with alligators” then “tussle with whales”. He “handcuffed lightning” and threw “thunder in jail”. All steps a rhyme. All venues verifiable. All rings a regular performance of irregular power.
11 :: As a young woman, I recall sitting ringside watching spectators cheer in real time. Humans both in and outside their prime (11). All beings filed then filled bleachers. The men in the ring threw punches a few yards over from the casino’s main floor. Most were there on comps. Happy to trade chips for ring-side tickets. I don’t recall the fighters’ names or the casino host. But I remember the bell. Shiny silver on a twine rope. Its sweet chirp reminiscent of an August sky. Come dawn. Come dusk. In the pockets of air where rush hour sings.
12 :: Now, I think often of Ali and standard rings. Square plots surrounded by four strands of rope. Professional bouts irregularly scheduled in regular rounds. All rounds timed by minutes (12). Most nights, I lie on my back in the middle of a regularly contained plot and dream beneath an open canvas (both artificial and synthetic). Then wipe all notions of standards aside. My right limb sweeps across the sky’s open expanse. Upon reading that Muhammed Ali was banned from boxing for three years, I wondered what he’d did come August. When all drafts are welcome, and all quarrels quick(er) to quiet. When late afternoon skies toss gentle punches with early evening sunsets. When dusk dances the tango. Sometimes the waltz. And baby bats flap wings. Eyes open wide. No prior experience needed. The world its spectators. Boxing in August both a blessing and a blanket. The sky’s a ring.
Boxing in August
The challenge is the same as any other. Meet ups and match ups fleeting. Rounds irregularly regular. Curiously curated. Blends of honeybees and carpenter ants. All rings full. Kitchens always open. Boxing (and punches) at all tables. The month a collection of moments turned minutes turned memories. Of butterflies and red robins. Of blueberry scented kisses. Floral linens and potpourri blankets. All ants busy. All bouts timed. All trees on perpetual rush hour. The meadow all plots a canvas. Souls in rubber soles grounded. Weeds wander with worries in a gentle wind. To box in august is to embrace nature at its finest. A symphony of greats. All players a champion.
12 (plus) reasons (& ways) to gaze at a championship ring (come August)
- Northern and Southern skies dance the tango. All beats in tune.
- Fruit punch (and constellations) over ice. Everything nice.
- Soft(ee) trucks. All bells on.
- Knocks on front doors at dusk. Fresh corn husks.
- Bulbs both lit and sprouted. New light. New life.
- Blades of grass rings. Open skies sing.
- Two-for-a-Buck books. Titles both fiction and non.
- Luck on ice-pop sticks. Shareable licks. No need for tricks.
- Daffodil sprouts. Lake side bouts.
- Orion’s Belt. Below the belt spandex.
- Spectators and luck meters in prime time.
- Souls with dancing soles. Always on the clock.
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, works, and writes in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania.