A Gauntlet of Bells



Boxing, or the "sweet science," is an interesting contrast of brutal, basic combat tactics, and subterfuge or sacrifice. The men who excel at the sport are at once very direct people and among the gentlest souls among us. I've always felt it was the only sport worth watching on TV.

I know one such man, Vinnie "Vince" Marino, a boxer of moderate success, and then even more success as a coach and mentor, then landlord and restauranteur. A real success story, a guy with both brains and balls. A direct and straightforward man, with a love of food as big as his smile. He agreed to sponsor the last 100 Thousand Poets For Change event in Dedham last September, donated a lot of awesome Italian food, then showed up, stood up to the microphone and read this poem that I wrote for the occasion.

He was a hit.


A GAUNTLET OF BELLS

There is a reason they call it a ring,
even though it has four corners.
Inside of it is like being the clapper of a bell;
moving from one side to the other,
a step to one side giving power to a strike in the other direction,
the first push determining the tone
and the vibration humming through to your core.

From the open to the close it is a gauntlet of bells.
Rounds counted and marked by the clash and clang of attack,
after the first bell the world turns on you with violence
that is relentless and persistent until the final chime.
The choices you made that brought you here
bring you closer to your reasons for making them.

Left to right and back again, and again,
thoughts run lightning to your glove,
impact runs through your shoulder to the bone.

Life hits you in the face outside the ring too
but in here it is more honest about it.

You better give better than you get, one hundred percent,
until the next bell, your brief moment of respite,
a chance to sit, have a sip of water, maybe stitch that cut over your eye
until the next bell sends you back,
defiant and unbroken -
dodging and swinging, picking your moments,
dancing away while looking for that sweet split-second
to leap forward and explode.

Another clang, another moment to recall how hard you hurt,
then another bell, back to protecting, attacking,
plundering your very soul for the grit to continue,
hit again, dance away, hit once more, take a shot to the head.
Refusing to think about how long to the next bell,
refusing to give in or give up,
more alive at that moment than any other.

Then it is done
and you hear the bell ring,
then the sweet sound of the count,
but whether you are carried from the ring on their shoulders
or a stretcher,
you know you rang the bell.

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