Saturday, November 5, 2011


I'd just heard
on World News
that Smokin' Joe
had entered
Liver cancer
had taken him
How they go,
how they go,
all the ones you thought
would never go,
but they do. In this case
a rogue white cell
got to him; for others
it's simply old age
or natural decay,
For still others
a loss
of bravery
or spirit. Others feared
a drying up
of what made them
who they thought
they were
and took
an early
like Ernie.
No matter,
how they bought it
it cost all of us
something--a diminishment
of a world
that has less and less
It is all TV now,
all scripted.
Fighters fight
once a year, maybe.
Poets are sucked
toward mics
& slams;
artists, auctions.
While junkies junk
and alchies drink
the sickness spreads
to precincts without

I saw Joe
up close once
in front of the old
Americana Hotel
on Seventh Ave.,
in the fifties.
He wore a full length
white mink coat and
a black felt pimp's hat
in a pimp neighborhood
before Disney
sanitized it
and made it safe
for fat Minnesota tourists.
I saw him fight live
four times, three
on closed circuit.
I rooted against him
the first three
and for him
at Nassau
when he fought Foreman.
He came out that last time
in white satin.
His head
had soaked
in brine,
as usual,
for half hour
before he dressed
for war.
He danced, he bounced,
he rolled his arms and shoulders,
took off his hood and shone
his stubbly head and face
to the crowd. Nobody knew
how much Ali had taken
out of him
until Foreman
marched across the apron
and hit him
and he slid back
as if he was sucked back
against the ring post.
Joe slithered
like brown cement
to the floor
and stayed
like that until
they came for him.

He tried to fight
a few more times.
And lost them all
badly. Even
the crooked doctors
would not sanction him
after those fiascos.
He opened a gym
in the poor slum
he came from
and slept near
the bags and the lineament
and the scars and the wins
and the cheers
and the women
and the men
and the jewelry
and the clothes
and the parasites
in a tiny room
with fight posters
in the back.

He said he hated Ali
but I don't think so.
The cruelty, yes;
the stupid humiliation
to sell seats, yes.
But not the fights, brother.
Not the fights.
To view them is a coward's sport,
a spectator's high.
But to be in them.
My God. To be in them,
round after round
and know
that nothing else existed
except death
is something that most of us,
will live without,
never knowing
that kind
of bravery.

He was broke, of course.
But he had it once:
ate well, tipped well,
made love
to all manner
of creatures,
slept in beds
under silk
and perfumes,
and talked talked talked
to the shoeshine man
and presidents.
And that beats
not ever having it.
And so tonight,
I think of Smokin Joe,
and his last
few nights,
dining on morphine
instead of rare steak,
sipping tepid water,
through a bent straw
instead of champagne
in a flute,
I salute you
and those other heavyweight gods
who came before you
and the very few
who have yet
to arrive.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2011


  1. I read a few poems - looks like you're writing again, I like what you're doing.