Issue 35, Final Fringe

"Landscape with Autopsy" and one more poem

by Ravi Shankar Issue 35 06.24.2013

The Way He Would Slip Punches
Like a Speedboat Navigating a Cove

Appalled and thrilled is what I wrote for its alliteration
but that was pure showmanship, shimmy shuffle
and shoulder roll, not true to the rapt attention I had
trying to pin the technical terms—jab and cross,
hook and uppercut—onto the bodies of two men
who glided across the roped ring trying to land
blows. Watching the fight, I watched myself watch
the fight, noticing how in spite of myself raw sounds
gurgled up from my throat. Was it to help exhort
Bad Chad Dawson, New Haven’s finest, rip into his older
opponent? Or in appreciation of the way he would
slip punches like a speedboat navigating a cove?
Perhaps it was a muscle memory of the only time
I stepped into the ring, with a buddy, to playfully
grapple, until I got hit with a roundhouse in the ear,
which clicked some primal button I could not unblink,
and charged with animal aggression I never suspected
I possessed, I dropped my good friend to his knees?
Or maybe finally it was being colonized by the crowd
in synchronicity with the growls and curses that made
me yell out in spite of myself. I could have been in
Baghdad 7,000 years ago, where an archaeologist
discovered a Mesopotamian stone tablet engraved with
two boxers preparing to fight, else in 18th-century London
eating meat pies and drinking ales while watching
a bare-knuckle prize fight. Somehow each feint and parry,
each exchange of fists, encapsulated an essential
idea about brotherhood and brutality that I could not
put into the right words. All I know is that when the final
bell sounded, cauliflower ear and nerve-cell damage
in the periphery, the ring overrun with promoters, corner
men, men in tuxedos and blue latex gloves, cameras
on cranes, the ring girl in her low-cut dress, I was fixated
on the two fighters with their gloved hands raised in the air,
I was galvanized yet not quite satisfied. I wanted more.

Landscape With Autopsy

for J. B.

After the taste of our last kiss has vinegared
in your mouth and the ghost trace of my fingers
lingering in the hollow behind your knees has turned
to damp, then the memory of dampening,
and then the dampening of memory, after the sound
of my voice becomes the last song
of the lodgepole pine before Ÿ• beetles break • Ÿ it
into humus, and the gait of my step ripples
the air no more, after oysters on the half shell Ÿ•
and summer dresses, horoscopes and the beach
with its undulating dunes stretching to the horizon
flattens to a smudge of light,
after the last road back has been eaten by thistles,
there will still be—will always be—inside of me, you and stars.

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar

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Ravi Shankar, associate professor of English and poet-in-residence at Central Connecticut State University, grew up in Virginia, earning a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Columbia University. His collections of poetry include Instrumentality (2004), a finalist for the 2005 Connecticut Book Awards; the collaborative chapbook Wanton Textiles (2006), with Reb Livingston; and Deepening Groove (2011), winner of the National Poetry Review Prize. He also coedited, with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal, Language for a New Century, an anthology of contemporary poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and beyond.