by Barbara Westwood Diehl
You fight, left right left right, left jab straight right, rabbit punch sucker punch, pitty-pat punches, uppercut, headbutt, an elbow a low blow a hook a feint a foul, to the liver to the kidney, to the ribs jaw chin, you throw a haymaker, you miss, you spin you duck you get him in a clinch, you rope a dope, you’re punch drunk, you kiss the canvas, you’re KO’d, you throw in the towel take a dive, you’re a palooka, a tenth-rater, a nobody, you get the bum’s rush. You got a nosebleed. You got cuts at the eye. A cauliflower ear. You can’t hear. You know who the crowd is cheering for, and you know it’s not you. You push at the ropes with your gloves, pry them apart and slip through, like a glove on petroleum jelly smeared on by your cutman. You can’t see out of the swelling, out of the cold towel. You know what the crowd looks like and just what they’re looking at, and it’s not you.
Out of the ring now, for good, you get the gloves off, get untaped, drop the cold towel on your way out, trade your trunks for a suit from Men’s Warehouse and someone who loved you once tells you to consider community college and maybe get an Associate’s degree in HVAC or restaurant management. So you do and then decide to transfer your credits to a four-year university and get a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts instead of HVAC, where you could make a living and maybe meet a girl and get married and have kids who would support you in your old age because you can’t think anymore from too many concussions or what some fancy shit doctor called dementia pugilistica or maybe it’s just Alzheimer’s, who the hell knows, but, no, you spend two years reading the Norton Anthology, and instead of Iron Mike or Sugar Ray or Razor or The Kid delivering the left jab, straight right, sucker punch, uppercut, headbutt, it’s an adjunct. You get the bum’s rush. The Once and Future—again, not you.
Barbara Westwood Diehl is founding and senior editor of The Baltimore Review. Her fiction and poetry have been published in a variety of journals, including Quiddity, Potomac Review (Best of the 50), Measure, Little Patuxent Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Gargoyle, Superstition Review, Per Contra, Thrush Poetry Journal, Atticus Review, The MacGuffin, The Shore, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Raleigh Review, Fractured Lit, South Florida Poetry Journal, Five South, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Also a poem in The TELEPHONE Project.