Small Town Wrestling Sestina

It’s hard to write a poem in a room
full of small sweaty boys and the smell
of bleach. Parents line the walls on mats
like lazy Buddhas with bad backs.
Boys wear spandex short-legged jumpsuits, tight
and low cut across flat chests.

And my son, age eight, wiry heavy weight, wore on his chest
between nipples a temporary Tinker Bell tattoo, tight
when he stretched, wrinkled as he crawled across mats.
A muscled father, upon seeing it, patted his back
and said, Cover that up. So he did. I can smell
the homophobic sweat of men across the room.

In this small Republican town, there isn’t much room
to be wide. We live inside windows too close, tight-
lipped in suffering, good neighbors. We back
each other up. The thin man against the wall three mats
down removed my gall bladder last year, saw my tattooed chest,
breasts sagging sideways above inflated belly, smelled

the air escape my hissing body, not to mention the smelly
little polyped pouch that housed my bile. His and my chest
heave with pride while our sons collide in tights,
practice domination on maroon wrinkled  mats.
We yell with shaking limbs across the room,
Throw a half nelson! Keep him on his back,

Son! And the weekends accelerate back to back.
I miss his second meet, stuck in a conference room
in Denver. Almost home, driving down our street, I see the medal on his chest,
dull faux gold, second place, he smiles through crooked teeth. He smells
clean, says he was beat by a boy from Sterling 5 to 3. Slamming fists on the mat,
I learn later over beer, our son wrestled through his furious tears. My throat tight

to hear the way he growled, scowled and fought to breathe through tight
angry lungs, hyperventilating, flung the undefeated boy across relentless mats,
spun away and sobbed without shame, fiercely wriggling off his back,
one of two kids never to be pinned by this lonely champion black-chested
kid wrestling through a sea of white skin.  So small across the room,
the referee raised his thin arm high, armpit wearing the smell

of victory.  On the edge of the mat, back against his father’s chest,
finally finding his breath, our tight-limbed smelly boy made himself room.

2008

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