The Prizefighter

1788.

 

Everyone was glad of the simplistic narrative.

 

In the blue corner, "The Jew", Daniel Mendoza,

upstart, pip-squeak, long-hair, coward,

he who dared to side-step, shuffle and duck,

which he called "the scientific style"

as though stepping back from an uppercut

was a marvel of rational thinking.

 

In the red corner, "The Gent", Richard Humphreys,

who kept an exquisite posture

even when breaking someone's neck.

It was a relief to the ruling classes

to support any pugilist who, while accounting

for his victories, remained grammatically correct.

 

In Chancery Lane, there was low-contrast rain;

sky, brick, cobbles, no telling them apart.

The canvas was black, torn at the edges,

strapped over crates. Half of London's wages

were on the Gent. A crowd that wet

will only find consolation in bloodshed.

 

Round one. The locals did not like Mendoza's way

with a quickstep, his tendency to not get punched

offended their aesthetics. Happily, the weather

was on their side. He could not duck and weave

as his feet began to pickle. The Gent landed

some chivalrous jabs to the liver.

 

An hour later and sixty-five rounds,

things looked different. Humphreys knelt

on the deck, bleeding from both eyes;

his nose had lost its breeding. The stains

on the canvas made a map of the new world.

Mendoza held a hand towards the sky.