Denis Johnson

When we catch sight of one of those birds balanced and steering on the currents, its five-pound body effortlessly carried by the six-foot span of its wings and therefore not quite constituting a material fact, the earthbound soul forgets itself and follows after, suddenly airborne, but when they’re down here with the rest of us, desecrating a corpse, brandishing their wings like the overlong arms of chimpanzees, bouncing on the dead thing, tearing at it, their nude red heads looking imbecilically minuscule and also, to a degree, obscene–isn’t it sad?

–from “Triumph Over the Grave” by Denis Johnson

Paul Beatty

And here, in the Supreme Court of the United States of America, fuck if between the handcuffs and the slipperiness of this chair’s leather upholstery, the only way I can keep from spilling my ass ignominiously onto the goddamn floor is to lean back until I’m reclined at an angle just short of detention-room nonchalance, but definitely well past courtroom contempt.

–from The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Jonathan Lethem

Mothers calling kids inside, the bus lit inside now, fat ladies coming home from offices at the Board of Education, on Livingston Street, their weary shapes like black teeth inside the glowing mouth of the bus, the light fading, street lights buzzing as they lit, their arched poles decorated with boomeranged-up sneakers, and Mingus Rude saying, one dying afternoon, eyes never ungluing from a panel in Marvel’s Greatest Comics in which Mr. Fantastic had balled himself into an orb the size of a baseball in order to be shot from a bazooka into the vulnerable mouth of an otherwise impervious fifty-foot-tall robot named Tomazooma, the Living Totem, “Your moms is still gone?”

–Jonathan Lethem, “View from a Headlock”

Muhammad Ali, In Memoriam

When Pasha and I were “writing” the book of found poems, it seemed like there was one athlete who had to be in there. But everything he said was always already poetry; in that sense it was both the hardest and easiest to put together. In memoriam:

Muhammad Ali

The man to beat me
hasn’t been born yet.
I’m not the greatest;
I’m the double greatest.
Not only do I knock ’em out,
I pick the round.

Well Henry Cooper is nothing
but a tramp.
He’s a bum.
I’m the world’s greatest.
He must fall in five rounds
but if he talk about me
I’ll cut it to three.
After I’m through beating him,
I think he’ll have to
join the Beatles and
be a singer.

Joe Frazier’s in trouble.
’Cause the Muhammad Ali
Joe Frazier is going to meet
is going to be better
than the Muhammad Ali
he met three years ago.

Joe’s going to come out smokin’
and I ain’t gonna be jokin’
I’ll be peckin’ and a pokin’
pouring water on his smokin’.
Now this might shock and amaze ya
but I will destroy Joe Frazier.
Some people say, “You better watch Joe Frazier,
he’s awful strong.”
I say, “Tell him to try Ban Roll-On”
(That’s deodorant.)

I’m going to do something to Joe Frazier that might be illegal.
My lawyers told me
to bring a bail bondsman to get me out of jail.
They might put my tail in jail
and get me out on bail
after what I do to Joe Frazier.

Frazier is so ugly
he should donate his face
to the US Bureau of Wildlife.
Frazier is so ugly that
when he cries,
the tears turn around and
go down the back of his head.
It will be a killer,
and a chiller,
and a thriller,
when I get the gorilla
in Manila.
I always bring out the best
in men I fight,
but Joe Frazier,
I’ll tell the world right now,
brings out the best in me.

I’ve seen George Foreman
shadow boxing
and the shadow won.
Floats like a butterfly,
sting like a bee,
his hands can’t hit
what his eyes can’t see.
Now you see me,
now you don’t.
George thinks he will,
but I know he won’t!
It’s a divine fight.
This Foreman—
he represents Christianity,
the flag.
I can’t let him win.
He represents pork chops.
That all you got, George?

Sonny Liston is nothing.
The man can’t talk.
The man can’t fight.
The man needs
talking lessons.
The man needs
boxing lessons.
And since he’s gonna fight me,
he needs falling lessons.
Get up sucker and fight.
Get up and fight.

I predict that this will be Buster’s last stand.
I will do to Buster
What the Indians did to Custer.
Wipe him out.

I done wrestled with an alligator,
I done tussled with a whale,
only last week I murdered a rock,
injured a stone,
hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast that last night
I turned off the light switch
in my hotel room and
was in bed before the room
was dark.
I am the astronaut of boxing.
Joe Louis and Dempsey
were just jet pilots.
I’m in a world of my own.
There are two things that
are hard to hit and see.
That’s a spooky ghost
and Muhammad Ali.

Why should they ask me
to put on a uniform
and go 10,000 miles from home
and drop bombs
and bullets
on brown people
while so-called Negro people
in Louisville
are treated like dogs?
I got nothing against
no Viet Cong.
No Vietnamese
ever called me a nigger.
Boxing is a lot of white men
watching two black men
beat each other up.

Cassius Clay is a slave name.
I didn’t choose it
and I don’t want it.
I am Muhammad Ali,
a free name–
it means beloved of God–
and I insist
people use it
when people speak
to me and
of me.
What’s my name, fool?
What’s my name?

Boxing was only for self-gain,
just beating up one of my brothers
or somebody else’s brother
for money.
Possibly hurting ‘em for life,
which I didn’t intend to do and
I’m lucky I never really did.
I would say I get more pleasure
converting so-called negroes.
I enjoy this much better than boxing.

I always asked my mother,
I said, “Momma, how come
is everything white?”
I said, “Why is Jesus white
with blond hair and blue eyes?
Why is the Lord’s Supper all white men?
Angels are white.
Mary and even the angels.”
I said, “Mother, when we die
do we go to heaven?”
She said, “Naturally we go to heaven.”
I said, “Well what happened to all the black angels?
They took the pictures?”
I said, “Oh, I know, if the white folks
were in heaven, too,
then the black angels were in the kitchen
preparing the milk and honey.”
She said, “Listen, you quit saying that, boy.”
I was always curious
and I always wondered
why I had to die to go to heaven.
Couldn’t have pretty cars and
good money and nice homes now.
Why do I have to wait
‘til I die to get milk and honey?
And I said, “Momma, I don’t want
no milk and honey.
I like steaks and…”
I said, “Milk and honey’s
a laxative anyway.
Do they have a lot of bathrooms in heaven?”
So anyway I was always curious.
I always wondered why, you know,
Tarzan is the King of the Jungle in Africa–
he was white.
I saw this white man swinging
around Africa with a diaper on hollering,
And here’s Tarzan talking to the animals
and the African’s been there for centuries
and he can’t talk to the animals.
I always wondered why Miss America
was always white.
All the beautiful brown women in America
beautiful suntans
beautiful shapes all types of complexions
but she always was white
and Miss World was always white
and Miss Universe was always white.
and then they got some stuff called
White House Cigars
White Swan Soap
King White Soap
White Cloud Tissue Paper
White Rain Hair Rinse
White Tornado Floor Wax.
Everything was white.
And the Angel Food Cake was the white cake.
And the Devil Food Cake was the chocolate cake.
I said, “Momma, why is everything white?”
I always wondered.
And the president lived in the White House
and Mary had a little lamb
whose fleece was white as snow
and Snow White
and everything was white.
And Santa Claus was white.
And everything bad was black.
The little ugly duckling was a black duck
and the black cat was the bad luck
and if I threaten you
I’m gonna blackmail you.
I said, “Momma why don’t
they call it whitemail?
They lie, too.”
I was always curious
and then—this is when
I knew something was wrong.
Won the Olympic gold medal in Rome, Italy.
Olympic champion—the Russian’s
standing right here
and the Pole right here.
I’m defeating America’s
so-called threats
or enemies.
And the flag is going
dun dun dun dun dun dun
dun dun dun dun dun
I’m standing so proud
dun-dun duuun dun dun dun
and I done whooped the world for America
Dun dun dun dun dun
I took my gold medal,
thought I’d invented something.
I said, “Man, I know I’m going to
get my people freed today.
I’m the Champion of the whole world.
Olympic champion.
I know I can eat downtown now
and I went downtown that day,
had my big ole medal on,
went into a restaurant.
At that time things weren’t integrated.
Black folks couldn’t eat downtown
and I went downtown.
I sat down
and I said, “A cup of coffee, a hotdog…”
The lady said, “We don’t serve negroes.”
I was so mad,
I said, “I don’t eat them either
just give me a cup of coffee and a hamburger”
I said, “I’m the Olympic gold medal—
won three days ago. I fought for this country in Rome
and I’m gonna eat.”
I had to leave that restaurant
in my hometown
where I went to church
and served in their Christianity
and fought—and daddy fought in all the wars—
just won the gold medal
and couldn’t eat downtown.
I said, “Something’s wrong.”

You want me to get some gloves on, boy?
I’m the prettiest fighter in the ring today.
That’s my label.
There’s not a man alive
who can whup me.
I’m too fast.
I’m too smart.
I’m too pretty.
I should be a postage stamp.
That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.
It’s hard to be humble,
When you’re as great as I am.
I’m ready to back up
everything I’m saying
And I’m through talking.

(excerpted from Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion: The Poetry of Sportstalk “by” Pasha Malla and Jeff Parker)

GK Chesterton, keeping it real

There is at the back of every artist’s mind something like a pattern and a type of architecture. The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would like to wander, the strange flora and fauna, his own secret planet, the sort of thing he likes to think about. This general atmosphere, and pattern or a structure of growth, governs all his creations, however varied.

-GK Chesterton