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,
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
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?
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).