“and even you forgot those brilliant flashes seen from afar” -Ruth Stone

MERCY

Funny how I carry them with me,
the boys I punched in a scuffle
and got the better of. Who knows
now why or for what reasons
we approached each other,
fists protecting our doughy
almond-colored faces, arms
like two upright praying mantises
set to tangle: Darren who, to tell
the truth, backed away and slipped
on the curb at the corner of Master Street
just as I swung and grazed his left
temple so that it looked like I possessed
the fierceness of some Sugar Ray
whose timing my grandfather praised
as elegant, a thing of beauty;
or Wilbur who was so slow and timid
I punched again and again in the nose
between closed hands until his face
resembled crushed tomatoes. Who lives
most in memory is Greg and that time
his older brother forced him to fight
after we both jumped for a rebound
and my elbow struck his mouth,
and his lips ballooned like two
connecting soap bubbles. We circled,
this kid who in third grade I gave
daily half my peanut-butter & jelly
sandwiches, who traded Topps
baseball cards: my Pete Rose for his Willie
Stargell, and when we finally decided
to breech our fear, I struck
in the stomach, so that he keeled
over hugging himself, leaving him
open like a cash register. But I couldn’t do it.
I dropped my fists, opened my fingers
slow as petals and walked away ashamed.

Appears in this issue

Major Jackson is the author of five books of poetry, including The Absurd Man (2020), Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) and Leaving Saturn (2002).

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