Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Adrian Matejka

Battle Royale

Back then, they’d chain a bear
in the middle of the bear garden

& let the dogs loose. Iron chains
around a bear’s neck don’t slow

him too much. A bear will always
make short work of a dog. Shakespeare

said Sackerson did it more than twenty
times to dogs & wildcats alike.

& since most creatures are naturally
afraid of bears, there wouldn’t

always be much of a show in the bear
garden. So the handlers sometimes put

the bear’s eyes out or took his teeth
to make the fight more sporting.

I believe you need eyes
more than you need teeth in a fight,

but losing either makes a bear a little
less mean. Once baiting was against

the law, some smart somebody
figured coloreds would fight just

as hard if hungry enough. So they
rounded up the skinniest of us,

had us strip to trousers, then blindfolded
us before the fight. They turned us

in hard circles a few times on
the ring steps like a motor car engine

before pushing us between the ropes.
When the bell rang, it seemed

like I got hit from eight directions.
I didn’t know where those punches

came from, but I swung so hard
my shoulder hasn’t been right since

because the man said only the last
darky on his feet gets a meal.

—originally published in American Poetry Review

Sporting Life

People always talking about if
& suppose
like those words are worth
more than money, more than the crease
a silk stocking makes on a woman’s

thigh. More than the grumble of a Thomas
Flyer engine. So I take the side of my
pleasures. Two small words, if & suppose,
& nobody can explain them. We get

in this world what we’re going to get.
After all, one man can roll out of bed
& be killed, while another man falls
from a scaffold & lives. A man can get

a bullet in the brain & keep his life
while some other poor sap dies
from a shot in the leg. It’s all luck
& perspective: pleasure is both to me.

—originally published in American Poetry Review

White Women: Lola Toy

Woman, you are
as delectable & powdered
as a beignet.

Your skin, white
enough to catch
a bit of sun

in its own sugar
& hold it until
sweat glints

like the jewelry I’ll
buy you. Don’t you
hear me talking,

pretty momma?
I can play the bass fiddle
for you if it’ll make

you feel right.
Or you can keep
on visiting my sparring

exhibitions, keep
covering your mouth,
gloved hand

like a dove’s wing
as you whisper
to your friends.

Did you tell
them the snappy
left that closed

the Kid’s eye
was for you?
Did you whisper

the gut hook
that dropped the man
to his knees

like a sinner
meeting with Death
was for you?

—originally published in America! What’s My Name?

“A Great Maltese Cat Toying with a White Mouse”

What Jack Said to the Reporters:

I had no doubt about the outcome
after the 1st round. The only
surprise was how long
Tommy Burns stayed on his feet.

He was a game man & showed
no inclination whatsoever to quit.
My fists were better in every round
& I landed punches I thought

would bring him down. Like a great
pachyderm, he refused to stop
& because he was so game, I was glad
the police ended the fight.

I wanted to be heavyweight
champion, not injure Burns seriously.

What Jack Really Meant:

That man made me chase him from Texas
to England, then all of the way
to Australia before he would fight me.
Four-flusher. He didn’t win the title,

he just happened to be white & in the right
place, like somebody striking oil. I put him
down, but gently, in the 1st round so he’d
know what was to come when he got a knee

off the canvas. Once he collected himself,
I bruised him with my right & talked
to him all the while. Walk right into them,
Left hook to the gut. That’s

a boy, Tommy. Straight right to
the cheek. Take your medicine nicely.

—originally published in Papers on Literature and Language

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