The Heavyweight Shade

(i. m. Joe Frazier, 12th January, 1944 -- 7th November, 2011)


In the sweat-shrouded ring, sparks pounced

   from his gloves.

I saw his overcast face, right eye swollen shut

   as he squinted to see his way,

Crunching undercut primed, through fourteen rounds

Of Metro Manila heat, fulminic taunts sneered

   at him from the ring-side.


Photos of him linger on the evening news: a man

   sculpted from fire, instead of feeble clay,

Arms case-hardened, fists cemented against both

   defender and challenger.

Manhandled by obsession, neither sham-artist

   nor showman,

He stood unflinching in the spotlight, poised

   in green trunks, sweating

And determined: the very prime of warrior-hood.


A god of few rugged words, applause

   and scorn discolouring his name.

No challenge to waken him back

   to another sweltering fight; fists raw

As sand, hawk’s eye gashed open,

   head kept low, shoulders huddled

As he bobbed between blows.

   The smell of blood clotting his nostrils,

Bogus fighters gave no answer:

   Joe Frazier was a left-hooking giant,

Shrivelled up by liver cancer.