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Graduate Writing Sample: A Brutal Poetry

22 Feb

During the holidays last year, I resolved to apply to graduate schools. It was time to pursue further studies. Thing is, MFAs in creative writing demand a writing sample. It’s an understandable and, honestly, refreshing requirement. The issue was that I didn’t have anything either long enough or, in my opinion, of high enough quality to submit, even if I fixed it up. So I set to work making a whole new piece, a complete short story that would function as my writing sample.

In the end, I created something that I wanted to write, something that I felt I would want to read in the future, free of shame. At first, I was reluctant to put it up here because (warning) it’s kind of long for me, clocking in at around 5,500 words. Also, it was kind of this grand, personal experiment and that immediately makes me wary of having it judged. Thing is, that’s silly. I should want to share it with others. As such, I present to you “A Brutal Poetry,” under the cut.

A Brutal Poetry

He stands and brushes dust from his pants, offers me his hand, pulls me upright and smiles up at me, bald head glistening with sweat under the bright lights of the arena.  We collect ourselves, turn and face the referee.  We bow to him; he bows to us; we bow to each other and move to shake hands.

Our fingers touch and the roar of a train scraping over the tracks rumbles through my head, air blasts my face as the behemoth grinds to a halt.  A shiver passes through my body, snow alighting on the platform around me, soft and ethereal.  At the edge of my vision, just out of focus, a middle-aged woman puts a cigarette to her lips and lights it, smoke drifting lazily upward from the tip before she exhales, breath consuming it.  My eyes are drawn to the glowing tip, ember that sears my vision as readily as its heat would my palm.  I rub my bare hands together and breathe open-mouthed on them; the smell is comforting—I could go over, try to bum one—but the doors of the train open and the passengers trickle out into a crowd, engulfing her and me alike, brushing past us while we wait.

“Zev!”

The voice is still a ways off; a hand shoots up above the heads of the crowd and my feet carry me toward it, shoulders turning sideways as I pass through the narrow gaps between disembarking passengers.  When I arrive, the hand’s owner is nowhere to be found.  I glance left and right, but it isn’t until she’s upon me that I think to turn around, body stumbling backward as her weight crashes into my chest, her arms encircling my waist, her mouth forming my name in endless repetition.  I manage to keep from tripping on the snow-slick platform and hug her back.

“Hey, Leah.”

To anyone else, the words might have sounded disdainful in their simplicity, their brevity and measured tone, but Leah looks up and the ends of her lips curl into a smile before she grips me tighter for just a second, then lets go.

“How’s my dad?”

Her breath slows—as visible as the smoke from the woman’s cigarette—while she meets my eyes, studying my face.

“Good.  Healthy.  Wants you to call him, though.”

I grunt and look away, feel her deflate, hear it on her breath.  I’m just… Not ready.  Not yet.  It has to be on my terms.  When I deserve it, then I’ll call.

She continues to stare at me for a few, tense moments.  The only indication that her appraisal is finished: she bends over and hefts a duffel bag, almost as big as she is, strap slung over her shoulder and other hand extended.  I take it in mine, removing the bag from her shoulder with my free hand and draping it over mine—lighter than it looks, mostly clothes—before setting off with her at my side, hand in hand.  We open the doors to the street outside and step through, world fading to white.

#

The ball of his foot misses my chin by inches and I snap forward, drive into him as his momentum carries him around, my fist meeting his side.  I feel the muscles of his abdomen stiffen at that instant, at the point of impact, and hear him cough, driven back.  He stutter-steps away and checks himself, winces a little at the fresh surge of pain from his own caress, but puts up his guard once more.

His eyes are focused, locked with mine.  Our breathing is slow, measured, deliberate.  The dull sense that we’re in unison, in sync, echoes in the back of my mind, taken for granted and promptly forgotten.  It is unthinkable that we should be any other way.  There is a parity in our stares, in our moment.  It surprises me, more than it does him, when I break it—both the equality and the look—and slide forward; front foot snaps out, whip-crack on the end of my leg that arcs low and returns incomplete—his front leg raised in reflexive answer—then chambers and drives straight out before hooking back, heel first.

His eye catches mine for just that instant, a brief exchange of intent as he hurries to plant himself and form a guard, but my heel collides with his arm instead of his face, carrying it aside and turning him.  A momentary grimace betrays him and my body answers on instinct and rhythm, spent leg still arcing toward my back as I spring from the other, carried around by that first strike’s momentum to snap the flat of my back foot across his face.  The impact jars me; his chin and cheeks distort, then re-form as he tilts and begins to tumble; I land as he falls, step back into stance as he hits the ground.

“Cut!  Cut!”

Noise floods my ears, the hustle and bustle of preoccupied people skittering around as my surroundings snap into sharp focus.  A shorter man, gut dangling precariously over his belt and shirt stretched to the limits of its fibers, storms over to me and points his sausage-finger at my chest.

“You can’t win this one.”

He punctuates certain words with a jab of the engorged digit, focused discomfort in my solar plexus.  He snaps his fingers and motions to my downed opponent, two men appearing from the frenetic crowd and lifting him to his feet, dusting him off and trying to make him stand.  One splashes cold water on his face while the other checks for cognizance.  Follow my finger, he says.  Don’t move your head.

The portly man, their director, stands too close to me.  When I look back at him, I’m greeted with his unwavering stare.  It’s unnerving how long he can hold it, how much venom he can inject into such an innocuous act.  Eventually, my downed opponent is no longer down.  A third member of the staff shuffles over and holds a thick, tack-bound stack of paper up to him, runs a finger down a page and chatters on while he nods, face blank and receptive.  Do you understand?  He bobs his head: yes.  The staff member nods as well.  Very good, then.  Proceed.

The members of the crew step away and disappear into the corners and sides of my vision, out of focus—even the fat one—and out of mind when a fist springs in from the corner of my eye, knuckles colliding with my chin, pain sparking through my jaw and jumping down the line of nerves to my brain.  Synapses misfire, a weak attempt at a block is brushed aside and I dully sense his heel bury itself in my intestines, through blinders and muffled cotton.  The floor barely registers and my vision goes black.

#

There’s a fork in my hand, pressed between two fingers.  I don’t remember how it got there, why I’m holding it as I am, or why I can hear someone talking.  Looking up, I’m greeted by Leah’s vibrant face, her auburn curls, across the table.

“Have you considered going back home?”

“Can’t say I have,” I shake my head, “this is my dream, y’know?  I’ll make it work.”

“Really, Zev?  After today?”

My shoulders shrug, “Shit happens.  Won’t win them all.”

“What happened back there?”

A sigh leaves my throat, but it originally broke free from somewhere deeper than that, somewhere further within.

“Can we not talk about this?  Please?”

She pauses, closes her mouth and looks down at her plate.  Pushing the chicken around in its ambiguous brown sauce, she mumbles an apology.  I wait just a moment longer, to make sure she’s absolutely done.  The fork twirls easily between my fingers, a miniature baton.  I place it on my plate, so as not to appear distracted.

“How’s your writing coming along?”

She perks up almost immediately, launching into a detailed discourse on her latest works, works that she’s brought along with her and I’m more than welcome to read later, she assures me.  She’s so animated… It’s a pleasurable reprieve from the nettles of my mind.  Still, it’s a temporary abatement at best and, as my mind begins to wander, it takes more and more concentration to remain focused on her and the words she’s forming.

“Anything published, yet?”

She blushes and looks away, fingers stretching outward on the table from her palm, then back in again, then tapping it in sequence.  She bites her lip and talks in short, stuttering sentences broken with qualifications and abstractions, but I can hear another voice picking its way through my skull, through fleshy tissue and electric snapshots of the past, of the present, of ideas and imagination.  It subsumes them all until I can’t hear what she’s saying to me anymore over its roar, its spurned cadence cracking my brittle consciousness and worming its way in, a voice of displeasure, a voice of disappointment, a voice of the insidious.  The sensation builds so gradually, seeping outward from my chest until it’s co-opted my brain, that I don’t notice it until it’s as though I’ve always felt this way and the corners of my eyes start to sting.

“I’m sorry.”

The words startle me, though it’s my lips that form them, my tongue that shapes them.  It stops Leah once more.  Her concern is palpable.  I feel tired, elbows on the table, head drooping into my hands.  My skin runs through my fingers, face melting off and dripping down to the surface below.  Tears burst upon the laminate and I can’t control them, can’t stop my body from shaking.  Flesh, soft and uncertain, brushes the back of my hand, gains confidence and grips it in lithe, delicate fingers.  Leah pulls it across the table, holds it between her palms, stroking the back gently, telling me to hush, telling me it’s okay, that I’m fine.  My other hand rests against the bruise on my chin, sharp pain digging into me with every jerking sob, and I know she’s lying, welcome the pain as my own form of penance.

Who am I trying to appease?

The thought hits me as suddenly as a bolt of lightning; current rips through my mind, wracks it with spasmodic memories.  The sensation of heel against arm, foot against face, the solid contact of a well-placed blow and the tumbling drop of the other man, the opponent overcome… It’s distant and vague, struggling for dominance with the reality, the antithetical truth of the situation.  It’s the truth, right?  I stood and he struck me, fist to my cheek, heel to my gut.  The proof is there, in the bruises, in the sensitivity, in the memory, and the alternative is pure fantasy… Right?

There’s this image I can’t shake, though, of a man, of men, and their berets and striped shirts, overhanging guts and thick stacks of paper, immutable truths.  I can’t remember, though.  Just a flash, just a moment of pause.  The tears have dried.

“They stopped the fight, right?”

She eyes me off-kilter, “I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I don’t,” I shake my head, “but I have to know.  Did they stop the fight?”

She shifts in her seat, as if trying to get comfortable, and looks out the window, at the trash piling up in the corner, anything to keep from meeting my eyes.

“They, Zev?  No, only you.”

“Only I what?”

“Only you stopped.”

Okay then.  Funny, though.  That’s only sort of what I remember.  I swore there was another man.  I need to think about something else.  I need to clear my head.  I need fresh air; I need cold snow.

“I’m going on a walk.  You’ll be all right here by yourself?”

She nods, worry still twisting her features.  A smile just barely turns my mouth and she seems to relax.  My coat and shoes slide on quickly and easily.  I’m halfway out the door when her voice pulls me back around.

“When’s the match?”

The doorframe splits me between apartment and hallway, mind equally divided.  It’s why I called her here, but it’s like I don’t want to remember, just want to pass over it, experience the fight only as something that has already happened.

“Two days.  I should be ready by then.”

She nods, doesn’t say to be careful, but I can feel the sentiment dripping off her.  My smile feels crooked, but I flash it anyway, then close the door behind me.

#

The crunch of snow-turned-ice under the soles of my shoes… It’s a pleasant rhythm, constant accompaniment.  Progress.  The dojo is only a couple of blocks away, but they feel interminable today, which is okay.  I’m enjoying the brisk air, the opportunity for silent contemplation.  These are some of the little pleasures, broken by an oddly familiar baritone.

“Out for a stroll?”

He comes up beside me and matches my gait, his hat and goatee marking him, his size announcing him.  The rest of his crew is nowhere in sight.  It takes a conscious effort to maintain the same speed, to refrain from flight.  He won’t get the satisfaction.

“Yes,” it comes from between barely parted lips, a sliver of air escaping and shaking the rest, music to his ears.  He smiles, yellow and cracked teeth an uneven mosaic, hands folded behind his back.  I refocus my gaze ahead, but the weight of his presence still bears down on my consciousness.

“What are you looking for, Zev?  Redemption?  Victory?  Do you think you deserve such things?  Have you earned them?  Will you earn them?”

I can feel my pulse in my forehead, in my wrists, coursing into my hands, fingers curling in, clenched fists.  The entrance to the dojo looms ahead.

“Why do you torture yourself so?  Do you think you’re some kind of martyr?  That your life is unique and brilliant?  These are ridiculous assumptions.  You’re like everyone else: worthless, a body of dead weight and meat, craving more and receiving nothing… Until you’re given the right opportunity.”

A pair of younger students, bodies decked in protective pads, are engaged out on the floor, arms and legs quick and unwieldy, raw potential.  Fighting is a language and, as with all languages, fluency is a matter of constant practice and exposure.  Watching them brings back pleasant memories, tainted by the Director’s presence.  It takes a conscious effort to relieve the tension in my body, to let the muscles from my jaw down to my toes relax, go slack.

“You don’t exist.  You aren’t real.”

I know it, and so I want my voice to be steel, but it wavers and warps.  He chortles, doubles over, slaps me on the back and I feel it, stumble forward involuntarily, just a step.

“Don’t I?  Aren’t I?”

Ignoring him is all that’s left to me.  The dojo is dim, lit only by speckled light from soiled windows.  Bright though the sun is, only a shade of its brilliance pierces the veil.  There are dark corners into which the Director can disappear at the drop of a hat, hardwood floor creaking beneath the weight of his steps.  I hear him slip away, leave me be if only for a moment, if only to offer a brief reprieve from his presence.

The students hold my attention a few moments longer; one of them drops his guard and the other takes advantage to land a solid blow with the ball of his foot.  I slip through the shadows to the back of the room, to the door of my sensei’s office.  He motions me in, shakes his head as I make to close the door, rises from his chair and steps past me into the dojo proper.  His voice echoes outward and the fighters stop, bow to one another, and switch to new partners.  At his signal, each pair begins their fight anew.  Sensei returns to his seat.

He watches his students from his desk, door cracked open, light probing outward from the gap.  Occasionally, his face drops to the paperwork on the simple plane of particle-board that serves as his workspace.  From behind, sunbeams stream down, unmolested by the window, glittering in the dusty air.  He motions to a second chair, across the desk from his.

“Sit.”

He doesn’t have to say “please.”  It’s implied in the tone and cadence of his voice, a gift almost uniquely his.  It’s such a minor act, but it still feels as though I’m doing him a favor rather than following a command.  I claim the seat and he pushes his paperwork to the side, eyes centered directly on me, focused with undivided interest.  He’s waiting for me to speak, but it’s taking a lot of effort to form the words.

“Sensei, am I doing the right thing?”

“What do you mean?” his expression’s quizzical, “The right thing how?  In what sense?”

“Fighting.  Training, trying to make a name for myself… Is it the right thing to do?  If I haven’t succeeded yet, will I ever?”

His face is blank.  Not empty, but devoid of obvious emotion, wholly impartial or, at the very least, impossible to read.

“Zev, do you want to give up?  Is it your wish to leave?  Or would you rather stay?  Only you can answer these questions, but I think you already know how you feel.”

I nod.  His smile is just barely visible.

“Now, what did you really come to ask me?”

“I-“ as always, he sees right through me, “can I win?  The fight’s in two days and I can hardly focus on my training.  Can I win it?”

“Why,” he says, “do you ask me questions to which you already know the answers?  Yes, you can. Will you?  I don’t know.  I can’t know, unless I gained prescience while I wasn’t looking.  What might be more important, Zev, is to ask yourself why victory in this match is so important to you.”

“If I win, I’ll be a success.  I’ll be a real fighter.”

“And if you don’t?”

“If I don’t…” I’d been trying to avoid the thought, what I’d do if I lost, “if I lose…”

“You don’t have to answer immediately,” his tone is assuring, “but I do want you to think about it.  It’s important to know yourself in these ways.”

I stand and bow, “Thank you, sensei.”

He smiles, then inclines his head and brings his paperwork back to the center of his desk, signifying the end of our conversation.

The Director is waiting for me when I exit the office, back against the wall beside the door, cigarette in hand.

“Good talk?” he asks, and brings the cigarette to his mouth, lights it.  I snatch it from between his lips and crush the lit tip in my palm, wincing at the sudden burst of pain.  Still, I focus on him and harden my gaze, speak without gentleness or congeniality.

“Not in here.”

He smirks—a grotesque mask—and pulls another from his pocket, lights it and inhales, breathes the smoke into my face.  I cough, both from the acrid smoke and his rotten breath.

“Here, out there, it’s no different.  If I want to, I will, and you won’t stop me.”

It’s impossible, but he towers over me.  Seems to, I mean, in that larger-than-life way reserved for film stars.  I can’t bear to look in his eyes anymore, and so turn away, start for the exit.  I walk quickly, determinedly, but he matches me with ease, glides up alongside me and continues puffing at his cigarette, though he doesn’t speak until we’re out on the sidewalk, crunching along through days old snow.

“You never answered my question.”

I stop and he stops with me; I look at him dumbfounded and he bares his stained teeth.

“Was it a good talk, Zev?  Or, as always, did he tell you nothing, offer platitudes and ‘advice’ about you ‘already knowing the answers,’ hm?”

It feels like I’m frozen in place, in position, shaking somewhere deep inside.  Is it rage?  Embarrassment?  I want to tell him to shut up, yell it in his face and stomp away, but the words won’t form.

“Poor little Zev.  Can’t even see the reality in front of his face, so trusting.  Would he ask questions like that if he believed in you, if he thought you could win?  Don’t bother answering, that was rhetorical.  He’s right to have doubts, you know.  His only mistake is keeping them from you, filling you with these false hopes.”

My arm moves before I can think to control it, hips snapping with it and driving the front two knuckles of my fist into his cheekbone.  The impact rattles me, runs down my arm in silent waves, but The Director merely turns his head back to me, still grinning, malevolent eyes carrying his sneer.  He pushes my arm, still extended, aside and steps in so that we’d be nose-to-nose if he weren’t so short.  Again, it feels like he towers over me.

“Go home, Zev.  You’re not the only one suffering under his own delusions.”

He walks off into the distance, disappearing past the light of a streetlamp.  I release a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

#

Leah’s sitting at the table when I come in, head in her arms, frame shaking.  I crouch down next to her, put a hand on her back and stroke her gently.

“What’s wrong?”

She looks up at me, eyes red and tears still running.

“C-called on the phone.  They… Phone call, and-“

“Who?  Who’s they, Leah?”

“M-mom.  On the phone, she called… Said the letter… She opened it.”

“Letter?  From a magazine?”

She nods.

“One of your submissions?”

She looks like the motion is going to snap her head off at the neck, but she bobs it anyway.  Her reaction precludes me actually having to ask after their decision.  To do so would only hurt her.

“Did they explain?”

She tries to move her head, but her body is in spasms and she can’t manage it.  I pull her close and hold her, tears hot against my shirt, vibrations rattling my ribcage.

“N-no.  ‘Sorry, this just didn’t do anything for me,’ it said.”

“Assholes.  They don’t know what they’re missing.”

I can hear a chuckle break through the tears, shake me slightly differently than the sobs.  Stronger and gentler all at once.  After a few minutes, she’s calmed down, her breathing normal, no longer choking on her own emotions.  I bring her to arm’s length and check her face.

“There’ll be other opportunities, Leah.  Right?”

“Mm,” she nods.  I smile and squeeze her shoulders, then let go.

“Want to show me the story?”

“Sure.”

That night, after she’s fallen asleep, I sit up, only the light from the moon and a nearby streetlamp passing through the window to define the room, soft lines of color along the edges of objects I can’t recognize in the darkness but for memory.  He joins me in the kitchen, ignoring the chair I’ve set out for him and sitting, instead, on the table itself, gazing down at me.

“You get it now?”

I nod.

“Good.  Then we have an understanding.  You’ll have your victory, and you’ll be glad you came around.  You’re not the first to do it, you know.  After all, pride’s all well and good, but it won’t mean much when you’re just more dust in the desert.  All people will remember, then, is what you accomplished.  Not what you tried to do.”

I nod again and he smiles.  When he closes his mouth, I can’t see him anymore, and it takes a minute to realize he’s already left.

#

The guest bed is empty when I wake up and I can smell eggs in the air.  I pull on my robe and stumble out of the bedroom, into the living room.  Leah’s sitting on the couch, a notebook in her lap, typing away furiously, a plate of half-finished eggs on the coffee table in front of her.  I can see another plate on the table in the kitchen.

“You get up late.  Made you breakfast.”

I almost snicker—curt doesn’t suit her—but hold it back so as not to distract her, nod and sit down to the breakfast she set out for me.  She’d always made a good omelet, and this one is no exception.  We’d joke that, if she couldn’t make it as a writer, she could just work as a short-order cook instead.  Somehow that thought feels pointed, today.  After finishing breakfast, and cleaning the plates and omelet pan, I go to the bathroom and take a shower.  By the time I’m out, Leah’s ready for a break from her work, and so we head out to meet with some of my friends and get some lunch.  I’m not particularly hungry, having just eaten, but it’s just good to get out and be around others.

From the way she laughs, it’s impossible to tell that, just the other day, Leah was all but broken.  Is it an act?  She catches my eyes and smiles.  No.  That’s genuine, wholly.  Something stirs inside me, uncomfortable, almost painful, as though breaking through years of crusted sediment.  Many of these friends are martial artists, and talk inevitably turns to my impending fight.  Assurances and well-wishes abound, but that same thing within recoils from them, tries to hide.  What emotion is that?

Shame?

#

The fight isn’t a big one for the community.  For me, though, it may as well be to the death.  I haven’t seen the Director in almost two days and there’s a nervous twisting in my gut.  Part of me would rather know how he plans to fix the fight than not.  In the locker room, I wrap my hands and ankles, fold the gi over my body and tie the obi at my waist.  As I’m about to head out to the ring, he appears, beaming.

“Well now, Zev, you ready to win?”

I can’t speak, so I jerk my head awkwardly, a vertical motion.

“Good.  During practice the other day, your opponent dislocated his shoulder.  It’s not debilitating, not by itself, but go hard on the shoulder and he won’t be able to do a thing against you.  Easy victory.”

Something sticks in my throat.  The Director looks confused for a second, then laughs scornfully.

“Ha!  You think your hands would be clean even if you didn’t have to do it yourself?  All I do is enable you, Zev.  Only you can damn yourself.”

The announcer starts to speak.  It’s time to begin the fight.

“See you at the ring, Zev.”

He scurries away and I sense myself walking, numb, out to the arena, feet leaden at the ends of my legs.  My opponent is already up there, waiting.  He’s shorter than me, older and bald, but his record speaks for itself.  He waits patiently, bows to me as I enter the ring.  I return the gesture with some difficulty.  A glance at his corner reveals the Director, leaning against the ring-post, swinging his one hand lazily at the end of his arm and puffing on a cigarette held in the other.

“Hajime!”

The referee’s voice jerks me out of my reverie.  My opponent slides in with liquid speed and throws a jab as a feint, then follows through with a straight punch from his bad arm.  I side-step to the outside and pivot, arc my back leg high around and slam the ball of my foot into the back of his shoulder, hear him gasp and sense him go rigid, start to fall and I’m on him, pinning him to the ground with my weight and slamming my fists into his face again and again, skin tearing and blood dripping from my knuckles, staining the wraps.  For just a second, I look up and see the Director in my opponent’s corner, smile broad and eyes dancing, brimming with delight.  I remember a voice, words that debased my worth, a tone that broke my confidence.  It wasn’t his, was it?  It was mine.

“No.”

I stop hitting my opponent and stand, walk over to the corner.  No one stops me, no one says a word or even looks in my direction.  I lift the Director up by his shirt and his smile fades.

“This isn’t what I want.  It’s empty.  Meaningless.  A sham.”

“What are you saying, Zev?  You have him at your mercy!  He’s beaten and broken!  He’s yours!  Finish it!”

“No.  This…”

I look behind me, at the battered form curled up and shaking on the mat.

“This isn’t success.  It’s just a win.”

The Director screams and smoke bursts from his mouth.  I cough and choke, sputter, can’t breathe, feel my consciousness fade and everything go black.

“Hajime!”

The referee’s voice jerks me to attention.  My opponent slides in with liquid speed and throws a jab as a feint, then follows through with a straight punch from his right hand.  A sense of déjà vu breaks over me as I side-step the punch, but it fades as I twist and deliver one of my own to his chest.  His arms are already there and he deflects it, attempts to counter with a side kick, but I close the gap and trap his chambered leg against his waist with my knee, brush aside his arms and deliver a solid palm-strike to the side of his head as I set down my leg, spin to my back and chamber my other leg for a side kick that throws him into the ropes.

All I knew from an early age was fighting.  It was seen as uncouth and vile, but it was what I had and what I loved.  There was an unspoken beauty in the motions, the shifting currents of offense and defense and the individual forms that composed them.  To take a blow: pleasure in sudden sharp and gasping pain.  Maybe that makes it sound perverse.  Maybe it is, in some inexplicable way, but that wasn’t what I felt.  It was simply part of the language.

A fight is a conversation between two people, between their fists and their feet, arms and legs, the two minds that control them.  Every movement is a piece of the vocabulary, a fluid and shifting discussion, a brutal poetry constructed in motion and form.  The result is mere punctuation—beauty lies in the conflict as a whole—but it is the outcome to which we cling, which we struggle to forget when it doesn’t suit us.

In the moment of it, though—in the thrall of that violent art—the outcome is uncertain and far from my mind, head slipping between rapid punches, fingers circling an offending wrist and giving a solid jerk that carries the attached body along with it, pulls it from its rhythm—off balance—and opens it up to my knee.  The blow slips under a desperate attempt to deflect it, rising into his chest, but my hold on his wrist slackens and he manages to pivot to the side, knee only grazing his ribcage as he steps in and sweeps my planted foot from beneath me.  I glimpse the ceiling, sense the floor crash flush against my back, brain jarred and hands splaying out to the sides to smack the ground, diffuse the impact.  I raise them quickly, but his shin has already found my neck, pinned me to the earth.

“Yamete!”

And so we come full circle.  He helps me up and we declare our respect for one another, with gestures borne of tradition and of brotherhood alike.  His friends, his supporters, flock to him in exultation, mine in wasted sympathy, but through them all breaks Leah, beaming up at me, arms encircling me despite the rank odor of my sweat.  Success isn’t solely the right of the victor: it derives, too, from that poetic thread that runs through the art itself and—I look at Leah, study her face, recall her aspirations, the goals she’s set for herself and, at once, the life she lives in the here and the now—and… And other things, too.

We drink that night, not to forget, but to celebrate.  Deep in the throes of the proceedings, Leah pulls me aside and presses a phone into my hand, then sends me outside.

“Five minutes,” she says, and winks at me before returning to my friends.  I nod at the back of her head and step out the door, slide open the phone and dial, press “send” and wait.  It rings three times, then clicks.

“Hey, dad.”

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Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Writing

 

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