On the Ropes and Sonny Liston as a Metaphor

by Kyle McGinn

On the Ropes

The rose in my teeth flutters
Onto my chin,
blooming, then wilting
as I kiss my brother’s fingertips.
His hands, the thorned lily I cannot grasp,
cover my eyes with fleeting glances
of crimson petals.
Glimmering stars
dot my view.
They burn rapidly into supernovas,
then glittering blackness.
My brother’s thumbs, delicate nubs,
are orchids
caressing the hinge of my jaw.

When I was a boy
I would watch crowds gather
at the Garden
to see the flowers bloom.
Champion, blue ribbon cuts
glistening with pride and midnight dew.

My brother lays my honeysuckle skull
upon spindles of grass
as holy bells ring
hymns of my childhood.
Ding, ding, dinging
as he stands over me,
lilies raised,
counting petals.


Sonny Liston as a Metaphor

I’m in his corner
thirty miles away.
My brother,
the boxer,
barely thirteen years old
tugs at his foamy foul protector.
He stands lanky with wispy blonde tresses in his eyes
across from a tall, tan boy-
broad shouldered brute.
From a dark mouth, behind a red rubber mouth guard,
“Faggot” drips out onto the mat.

I’m in his corner
thirty miles away.
“Get your goddamn hands up,”
I shriek, shaking the turnbuckle.
My little Irish brother lets his hands dangle
loosely at his hips
while the brute winds up,
open handed.
I clench the tiny fibers of the towel
as a slap echoes off of a creamy, peach fuzzed face.
The shine of Vaseline around his eyes rubs onto a clean hook,
polishing the brute’s fingertips
like fryer grease stains crinkly parchment paper.
My brother,
the boxer,
stands bleary eyed and motionless.

I’m in his corner
thirty miles away.
I’m a memory of an older brother
too far from dusky blue middle school walls
to remind a young fighter
to keep his hands held high.
I’m a catalogue of counter punches,
a Sears-Robuck of jab to cross to hook combinations,
too far from middle school locker rooms
to remind a small boxer
reaching out of his weight class
to keep his jab flicking at the brute’s light switch.
I’m a leaky hand-me-down speed bag
too far from checkered floor wings
to remind him not to let the brute get inside,
not to let him uppercut his way into guts
and vital organs.

Kyle McGinn, a die-hard Minnesota Twins fan, Raymond Carver enthusiast, and Minnesota Public Radio listener, is an undergraduate majoring in English – Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.