(not quite) a literary journal


'Mickey Riley,' 'Henry Armstrong,' 'Emile Griffith,' by Will Stenberg

Mickey Riley

We could never tell if those Irish eyes were smiling.
They looked every which way, inwards and waywards,
and mostly they were purple-black and shiny as eggplants.

He was a little man: arms of straw and chicken legs,
but he strutted around with his chest puffed out as a challenge,
his fists like shards of Cream City brick.

I don’t know why he fought, except that some are born to it.
And he was good in there. He was never a champion
but he gave many champions a very tough night.

I took my girl to see his first fight against Battling Nelson.
Seems like all of Milwaukee attended. By the twentieth round
they were both on Queer Street: no sweetness, no science. By the

thirtieth they were skating in blood, barely human — more like
dogs, or gods. It was a pure fight, as elemental as fucking.
They gave it to Mickey by decision. Then he collapsed.

I saw him once on Brady and Astor. He was staring at a streetlamp,
swaying slightly, like a young spruce in a heavy wind.
No wind though. “Hey Mickey,” I said. He nodded at the light.

His business cards read, “Challenger of the world at 133 pounds.”
Some trick, to challenge the world. You don’t do it to win.
His obituary read: “Mickey Riley, Fighter, Dies.” Every word true.

Henry Armstrong

Featherweight Champion of the World
Welterweight Champion of the World
Lightweight Champion of the World

Grandfather owned the plantation where my grandmother lived.
She was one of these proud women. She was one of these African
ladies and all like that. She was his slave.
Father, Henry, passed for white, but married mother, who was
a Cherokee Indian. She worked herself down and died. Fifteen kids:
she was weary in her hair, her nails, her teeth.

Her name was America. Dad died early too, got the rheumatism
from cutting up those cows in the cold, then consumption bitterly
ended him. Goodbye Daddy.
I worked on the rails for a while, until I saw a headline that said,
was all I needed to see.

I punched my way through everything that stood between my
family and all that money: through the color line, through three
weight-classes, through the shadow of Louis.
I would get in close to my opponent and dig everything out of them,
let their spirit, heart and will spill to the canvas, remembering
Grandma’s hands so scarred from the pecan trees.

Emile Griffith

Welterweight Champion of the World
Middleweight Champion of the World

What I think about when I think about Paret:
his head lolling back
like a flower in a rough wind. The feeling of his hard body
yielding. The taste of his sweat
spraying, the way the ropes trapped him,
the sudden fear in his eyes, rising like a strange moon,
the way he fell, a spent animal.

And what I think about when I think about Paret
is a little boy in Cuba, learning to fight,
every sparring match and training session
bringing him closer to his death
which resided, even then, in my hands,

but the truth is I didn’t kill him
for calling me maricón
which many people have
because my clothes are tight, because
I designed women’s hats, because
sometimes I fuck men. I killed Benny Paret because
his guard was down and I am a boxer,
so I kept punching



Tip Jar

Will Stenberg is a writer, musician and bartender who hails from the wilds of Northern California and currently resides in Portland, OR.

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