Note:  Cuban boxer Benny “Kid” Paret,
A ranking welterweight, was killed
In the ring during a bout with
Former world champion, Emile Griffith

I
The black glass of your jaw,
Benny, cracked. Across
The bruised isthmus of your mouth-
Piece, black-capped teeth
Smiled away ten rounds
Of your quick life. Today,
The hot gut of Cuba
Floats its ring in the finned
Caribbean. The skipjacked
Sea and gray gun-
Running sharks grin
The death and joy
Of their welterweight. You,
Benny, the listing Winslow
Homered black, reflect
The beating of your sweet-
Breaded brain. That night
Your cockeyed odyssey
Boxed its own dark shadow.
The Kid in you skipped
Rope. The chocolate theory
Of your bandaged hands
Jabbed your name to stone.

II
Benny, come back to the dumb
Gym. Catholic beads
Of sweat pray in canefields
To the mantis of your high-
Held fists. Three centuries
Of keel-deep ships, black
With slaveries of galleons
Porting, prows parting rum-
Soaked mists of Camaquey
Cruise to your sad myth.
Benny, the cruel sexual
Showers of The Bronx Y
Pour benedictions
To your loss. Come, Benny,
Spar. The big bag waits.

III
Thirty years, Benny. Cursed
With fists, the silver
Highlights of your shoulders
Bulged with death, like Roman
Armor. You laid red anthracite
Wounds to rest. Emile
Is fat today. Your death
Grew heavy on his weight,
To set its mass at his dark
Waist. You would be friends
In heaven, Benny. You kissed
The Champ with punches: Solar
Plexus. Kidneys. Heart.
And liver. The roundhouse
Of your love to fight
Was born in Castro’s wild
Maestra: Che, Raul, cut men
Live now in your corner.
Benny, today that right
Cross you never threw
For socialism marks
The sad bundle of your grave.
You lie, wrapped in sugar,
Your taped and mummied hands
Still. They lie at your
Side, gloveless, a loss,
While your fingerbones
Grow small mittens of moss.

IV
The sunlit island
Jewel of Cuba spars its nights
Toward destiny. In Nueva York
The Garden’s marquee lights
Bleed and spell the sky red:
Benny “Kid” Paret is dead.
Benny “Kid” Paret is dead.

 


“One Round Elegy for Benny ‘Kid’ Peret” is admirable for the ways in which the unflinching approach to its portraiture co-exists with a highly inventive approach to metaphor, and a brash use of the accentual line. Tough and uncompromising as the poem’s stance may often be, it is not afraid of the pathos that is essential in the best elegies.
—David Wojahn, 2013 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize Judge