A new poem by Greg Bell

Split Decisions

Like that boxing thing you did as a kid,
it’s bred in the bone, I suppose.
Better there was no ring at all.

Atop the steel-framed record stand
I’d prop my pillow up,
in one neutral corner

of the small, rope-less room
and start to scrap,
careful not to catch the heavy

metal lip with an uppercut.
I threw body shots best
which meant many a time

I’d chime a knuckle off the handle
or side, that top part where
a stereo might fit; or rip

my little fist into the caged
ribs below, springing me to the mattress
in pain. And though music

was stored in those album-
thin legs this Joe could not dance,
was a stunned and stung butterfly,

had taken too many grazing
Frazier hooks to the head
and his flower-embroidered chin,

pummeled and punch-drunk ended
up on spin, then in bed.
My Hands of Stone more like

pebbles, but fast. This back
in the day when Fight Night
was in fact a Sunday afternoon

on the couch, after church,
with my Dad, talking what turns out
was trash. But no cash was exchanged,

no pay-per-view event,
just a home-schooled science
lesson, of sorts; regaled with

tales of the sweet Sugar Rays,
Roberto Duran, Marciano
and Lamotta; when a fight went

fifteen, not twelve, and I was ten;
when I believed that the Wide
World of Sports was an actual

place you could live
and bought a plastic speed-bag
that wobbled and squeaked,

tore holes in the drywall
where the screws wouldn’t hold.
I wanted so bad to be tough

and my Dad to be proud,
so I practiced in pajamas,
threw punches in bunches,

flurries flying in a make believe
fury, I was a child in a hurry
to grow up and get the belt

I never got, waiting
for the bell in my head to sound,
end the round with me standing

over my listless Liston-like
laundry on the floor, with a scythe
for an arm, a steady breath

of cheer hissing through my
untouched lips. I’d win again
and again back then.

While outside the bedroom door,
in the kitchen, slightly bent
and parental, my gently whispering folks,

back when they spoke.