- Prize Fighter, and: Alias, and: Gold Smile, and: Ticket on the Titanic
I love horses because they will outrunthe fastest man. They are majestic,
as stately as a Saturday womanbefore a party. Horses smell like what
it means to be fast: sweat & gravelkicked up on early morning runs.
The in & out of breath like gravelin tired lungs. I groomed & raced
horses from Texas to Boston untilone broke my leg bone with a sideways
kick. I can't ride horses anymorebut even if I could, we've got these
automobiles now that can carry usa mile in a minute. I'm buying the fastest
automobile I can find once I getmy money together. In the ring,
I'm like an automobile. My fists worklike cranked-up engines. I've got
the kind of elasticity other fightersdream about after I put them to sleep
on the canvas. When I clinch a man,it's like being swaddled in forgiveness. [End Page 29]
When I hook a man, it's like being hitby frustration. I can't tell if horses
are happy or confounded by the newmeans of locomotion, but I can say
with certainty my prizefighting cohortsare decidedly dissatisfied by my presence.
John Arthur Johnson. Jack Johnson.Lil' Arthur. Jack Johnson. Tiny's boy,Jack. Yellow streak nigger. BoldMistah Johnsingh. Jack Johnson.
The Big Smoke. Jack Johnson. Flashnigger. The Ethiopian. Black animal.Texas Watermelon Picaninny.Mr. Johnsing. Colored man with cash.
Colored Champion. The Colored Winner.Gentleman Jack. Jack Johnson. GalvestonGiant. The Heavyweight Champion.Dinge. The Black Champ. Fresh nigger.
The Man They All Dodge. Papa Jack.Jack Johnson. Papa. Jack? [End Page 30]
Teeth, hads't thou in thy head when thou wast born,to signify, thou cam'st to bite the world.—William Shakespeare
They call teeth dent in France & the namemakes sense the way teeth do what they doto bacon & shoulders & cakes. The French wordfor gold is or, so when the folks in Paris
describe my smile it sounds like whatwould happen if I punched a door: dents d'or.Dents d'or, the French children say whenI open wide. Dents d'or, Etta says when she
locks herself in the powder room. TommyBurns said dents d'or when I was hooking himinto asking for forgiveness. His peopleback in Canada would have said the same thing
if they'd been in Sydney to witness the spectacle.Before we got into the ring, I told Tommythe only reason I got gold uppers was to makemy bite twice as expensive as it used it be.
Ticket on the Titanic
Etta & I had no intention of missingthe maiden voyage of the finest shipbuilt by man, but Captain Smith drewthe color line almost as quickly as Tommy [End Page 31]
Burns did. I expected the line froma frightened prizefighter, but an Englishsea captain? He should be more principled.Especially after I offered $4,000 for each
ticket. Of course, that color line kept mefrom fighting our way onto a lifeboatafter that iceberg. That is a fightyou can bet your last copper I would
have won. Even after all the offenseI suffered & the indignity of being refusedpassage, I would never dance the EagleRock after all those people drowned.
Adrian Matejka is the author of The Devil's Garden (Alice James Books) and Mixology (Penguin USA), which was a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series. These poems are from his collection, The Big Smoke (Penguin USA), forthcoming in 2013.