Summer 2021 - Poetry

JD Debris

The Voice of Hercules

 

Remembering that heavyweight

we’d call Hercules,

a mellow steroid fiend

who never sparred, just raised

 

barbells ‘til he was swollen as that solemn

British killer from Ninja 2: Shadow

of a Tear. He’d flex, hit vacuum

poses in ringside mirrors, taking photo

 

after photo, & lounge in the locker room,

nothing but a sideways Sox hat on.

A garden-variety goon

with a garbled, guttural monotone

 

& shriveled steroid balls:

so Hercules seemed, on the surface.

But every word he spoke was praise—

“So sick, bro”—softly, near-inaudible.

 

One night, the gym screened a pay-

per-view—De la Hoya or Money May.

All us gym rats came back

in jewelry, jeans, & the reek

 

of cologne instead of sweat

to cozy up between dormant

heavy bags & watch the fights

projected on industrial concrete.

 

I brought my old acoustic

for between-fight amusement,

background-strumming a soundtrack

to our cacophony. Hercules sat

 

beside me, saying, “Bro,

can you play a corrido beat?”

I started to strum a stock waltz-meter,

& Hercules, in a bass bel canto

 

that could rumble the cheap seats

of an opera hall, began a Spanish ballad

about a lost bantamweight

named Amen, who had disappeared,

 

the lyrics went, to Mexico last spring,

whom no one had heard from since.

The gym was quiet one verse in.

Pay-per-view muted, everyone listening

 

to this supposed bonehead

channel beauty. To his ballad,

its fragility—Fly,

little dove, fly, he’d sigh

 

at verses’ end. I’m amazed

that no one laughed at him—

insults, back then, our lingua

franca & form of praise—

 

in that moment so holy

& ridiculous, when his lips formed O’s

on long, pure

tones, & every chord

 

perfectly—somehow—

harmonized.

I can’t tell you which prize-

fighter won that bout,

 

or if we gorged on pizza & beer,

blowing off our weight-making regimens.

I can’t tell you if it rained, I can’t pretend

to know if sparks flew inside all those ears

 

bent in unison toward the amen

Hercules incanted. As for him,

his trainer, a hardass marine,

got sick of his preening

 

& told him go find another gym

where he could kiss his biceps

in the mirror, & drink his creatine

& beast his endless deadlift reps.

 

How many songs has he sung since,

in the shower of a distant gym

where he still takes his sweet time

soaping every ropelike vein?

 

What I know, I’ll tell:

around the campfire of the muted fights

that night, he was our horn of Gabriel,

our nightingale mid-flight.

 

Sing it again, Hercules?

“Aight.”

 


JD Debris writes poems, songs, and prose. He held the Goldwater Fellowship at NYU from 2018-20, where he completed his MFA. In 2020, his work was chosen by Ilya Kaminsky for Ploughshares’ Emerging Writers Prize, and he was named to Narrative’s 30 Below 30 list. His releases include the chapbook Sparring (Salem State University Press, 2018) and the music albums Black Market Organs (Simple Truth Records, 2017) and JD Debris Murder Club (forthcoming).


This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

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  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.