Why She Wrestles / Kindness / To What the Heart Submits


Why She Wrestles

Not to be made
tomboy martyr,
not to swallow
forfeit wins
from “upright”
opponents eclipsed
by their fathers,
not her mama’s cauliflower-
worry; not the suppression
of skullcaps, humility
of bent knees; not to be
undressed daily
by the serrated slights
of drill partners, cheerleaders,
and classmates alike
but because a fervor
hatched and hived inside her
like brilliant, golden
wasps on the morning
a neighborhood boy,
boogered with bad intent,
pinned her to cold mud
beneath a naked maple,
made her cuss and thrash
until she yelped
but did not weep,
and she swore
to never again be held
under such wronged light,
to rewind the memory’s black spool
before each blown whistle,
to whoop that boy, somehow
and for good, in the crouched
figure circling ahead:
what wishes to steal
her distance.

To What the Heart Submits

We practiced being good
and evil through evenings
the child mind prolongs,
in balding yards, atop
weathered trampolines,
mimicking wrestlers seen on TV –
eyes strained against projected light
that kept us awake.

Was here, near my curb
where I craned
a younger boy’s spine
in the Scorpion Deathlock
until his body, near-broken,
bowed in a U against the ground.
Fall, I believe – stench of adolescent sweat
wrestling against the last
plucked honeysuckles
crushed in our pockets.

And it must have felt like duty,
some kindness paid through ritual,
that quick slip into darkness
wisdom invariably must be.

The once-bullied. The burdened. The dog-
piled. The pants’d, little-dick-swinging.
The rock-pelted head. The held-under, exhaled.
The bound-by-rope-and-left-for-nightfall.

And if there’s redemption to be found,
let it be the boy’s cries
confessed between quivering
blades of grass. The not sweet
but metallic smell
after rain. Spiders, unfazed,
mending the slick wreckage
of their webs. The boy’s
blackened feet facing heaven
in backwards prayer.
Let it be there.


I remember how fervently Scott’s family cheered
his name when he leapt from the bench,
the doting smile he shot, how proudly he donned
a faded blue & gold JV singlet. Their silence
when she reversed his takedown, wrenched
a deep half, his father’s hand-cupped mouth. Gasps
and oh no’s overcome in the deafening eruption
of feet stomping metal; how his eyes swam
like panicked minnows in suspended floodlight
as she flattened his writhing shoulders
to the mat. I remember the beating
we gave him that next practice when Coach
left the room. How he curled up
like a salted slug at the hollow thud of our fists.
I remember hoping his father would be more kind.


Chris Joyner

Infatuated with weightlifting and chewy words, Chris Joyner considers himself a “meathead poet.” He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Miami, but his heart resides in Virginia. He won honorable mention in Winning Writers’ 2012 Sports Poetry and Prose Contest. In 2011 he was recipient of the Alfred Boas Poetry Prize and did some movie-telling at O, Miami. His work has appeared in Brusque, Fiddleblack, the Barely South Review, and elsewhere.

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