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by Matthew Johnson




No one roots for the giants. Not if they’re Goliath,

And even more so if they’re from Galveston, Texas.

There aren’t any black jockeys,

And not many ballplayers either, but at least we got Jack Johnson.

My pop’s not too keen on him because he dates white women,

But I just like how he don’t care what no one says, and does his own thing;

They even pay him to the knock the teeth in of white men;

I want him to win, but the white folks get mad when he do,

And since they can’t touch him in the ring, they come after us.

Does the heavyweight title mean so much to him,

Even if they come around to our neighborhoods to burn down the village?

I think it does. It just makes him punch harder, and makes him bolder…



Slavery in America had delivered so many death blows,

And was still not yet on the ropes, when Tom Molineaux, 

The bare-knuckler from Virginia, came forward, 

Before Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and John Brown

Fought for the nation’s soul,

Before the Missouri Compromise ruptured it,

And before Harriet Tubman made her first crusade up North, 

And won the greatest prize; not a belt or title, but freedom. 

Boxing is the loneliest sport,

And like the amateur who leaves the old neighborhood for their future,

Tom Molineaux soon leaves the plantation to make the rounds of Europe

Without his sparring mates and kinfolk, 

But they understood, and only smiled for the one who escaped, 

Before being forced back to their labors on the plantations of Virginia…

* * *

Matthew Johnson is the author of Shadow Folks and Soul Songs (Kelsay Books) and Far from New York State (New York Quarterly Press), and he has a forthcoming chapbook scheduled for a late 2024 release through Finishing Line Press. His work has appeared in Maryland Literary Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and elsewhere. A former sports journalist and editor, he is a recipient of multiple Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominations. An MA graduate of UNC-Greensboro, Matthew is currently the managing editor of The Portrait of New England and the poetry editor of The Twin Bill.


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