For Ali

June 4, 2016

Cassius Clay
(a folk song in bright G)

My father was a middleweight;
I never saw him fight
still he showed me how to throw a jab
and combo with my right.
He’d cup my head in his hand,
scrape his beard against my cheek —
he was whiskey and Old Spice
when I was a pip squeak.

And I remember Friday nights
when he’d turn on the TV.
I don’t know who killed Davey Moore
I sure hope it wasn’t me.

My father was a middleweight,
and many years ago,
he fought the onion farmer from upstate
Carmen Basilio.
He lost a split decision
and he never boxed again;
while the little goomba took a belt away
from Ray Robinson.

I remember Friday nights
when he’d turn the TV on.
I was watching the night Griffith proved
he weren’t no maricón.

I remember Gillette safety blades
Carling Black Label beer —
a sizzling gray fireplace
and daddy’s cauliflower ear.
I remember pretty Cassius Clay
stinging like a bee
when he was still a negro
before he became Ali.

My father was a middle weight —
he thought bigger guys were slow.
He told me Ali was more than great,
the best we’d ever know.

My father was a middleweight,
the golden gloves he won.
He died when he was 48and I was 21.
Sometimes I think he’d be surprised
at the softness of my hands
that never had too work too much
I hope he understands.


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