Not iron: greased shoulders beneath industrial lamps of the Bellagio, his face leaning toward a microphone, promising Lennox Lewis, “I will kill your children. I want your heart.”
I was a sick child—strep and allergies, gasping through my mouth as I waited for Afrin to drip like bitter metal down my throat.
I watched him: Tyson. He turned toward whatever sickness followed him around, and became it, biting off the edge of Holyfield’s ear, sure, but then spitting it out, small and saliva-gemmed on the canvas. Blood pooled in his collarbone like a debt the world owed him for those years beneath the clouds of Brooklyn, father-less, unable to speak without a lisp.
Someone always pays, or should, though it fixes nothing.
I’m terrible at forgiveness. I have none for him or me or anyone I know. The past just hangs around like a broken stereo I can’t turn off.
Years later, when I was finally well, a boy tackled me at recess. The wind flew out of my chest. My face crushed against the sleek swords of onion grass, and I swear I tasted pollen, ragweed, remembering those years breathless in a bed. I flipped the kid and choked him, longer than I should have, long enough for him to know.
Matthew Sumpter is the author of the poetry collection Public Land (University of Tampa Press, 2018), which won the Anita Claire Scharf Award. His poems have previously appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker, the New Republic, and Best New Poets 2014, and his fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train. Winner of the Crab Orchard Review Special Issues Feature Award and the Zocalo Public Square Poetry Prize, his work has been featured on Poetry Daily. He currently teaches academic and creative writing at Rutgers University, where he is an assistant director of the Writing Program and director of the Livingston Writing Center. This is his first creative nonfiction publication.