Watching them drink shots was best.
That fierce color as if it were burned
into the glass--the shot glass itself
so specialized, small and hefty the way
a bullet is. Shots made them talk tough
and say fighters' names: Mickey Walker,
Willie Pep, Beau Jack, Stanley Ketchel,
and Tony Zale. They talked cuts and
knockdowns and recalled whole fights by the
round. I got excited. I'd be Tony Zale, eye
brows obliterated, and told them so. "Jesus
Christ, no!" They'd cock their heads
at the glass, the bartender would pour
another shot. "Jesus, not you, Jimmie."
They did that. Get a dream up, then tell you
it was no good. Like how proud they talked
about the mill, how tough and dirty they got
and then made you promise to do homework
so as not to be stuck like them. They said
don't drink whiskey too. In the bathroom
when nobody was home I'd be famous
in front of the mirror with a shot glass
of Pepsi, watching myself throw one back.
This was after my title fight which I won
after taking awful punishment, just like
Tony Zale from Gary. I'd use my mother's
mascara and lipstick--to make
black eyes and blooded places on my face,
tuck cotton under to swell a lip. I'd study
their Jimmie in the mirror: everything
they loved and warned me not to be.
Sock down another shot, wince the way they did,
and watch myself defy them by loving
what they loved, by fighting my way into
their dreams of themselves and out of
their dream for me.