Gaby, With Fellow Poet Ravi Shankar
Receiving Replica Medieval Bludgeon,
aka Connectitut Book Award,
At Hartford Public Library
All You Gotta Do
Is Get Up One More Time ...
Blues For Ruby Goldstein
By GABY CALVOCORESSI
The best time is sunset when the streets get
quiet. No more kids playing stickball
under the window. No guys looking up
to see if you're home. What does anybody
know about a body anyway?
It can take a worse beating than most
can imagine. You can get every rib broken
and your eyes punched shut and your kidneys
can bleed like you see at the butcher. You can
forget your name and still be in church
the next morning passing the plate. It's why
guys like to get in fights at the bar:
no one who's taken a punch really thinks
he'll get killed. I mean sometimes it's different.
One time out on the street this kid mouthed
off to cop. Just some skinny kid not from
around here, probably he lived further
uptown. They took him round the back
of my building and let him know what was what,
how this part of town ran. I remember
him down on his knees, not making a sound
just slumping forward and rocking back
as he took the boot in the face. One would
grab his head like a barber checking the length
of his hair. And he'd pull so the kid rose up
a little and then he'd let go. It went on
like that for awhile. That kid probably
thought he was done for. Yeah. He probably
thought they'd leave him for dead. Which they did.
He was slight. What we'd have called a flit
or a fairy. Or something unkind. But you know?
He got up a few hours later. At first
he just crawled but he found his legs
pretty soon. He got up and looked around.
You could see him take a big breath before
he walked into the street. That was brave
for that kid to do that. And the guys let him
go without making much of a fuss. I think
a beer can got thrown and maybe a couple
guys spit. Nothing too bad after what he'd
been through. I was skinny myself. "The Jewel
of the Ghetto." That's what they called me back
in the 30's. So I know the kind of
lip you take from guys bigger than you.
All heart. That's what most little guys are.
But that counts for a lot. In the gym or
the ring all you gotta do is get up
one more time than the other guy thinks you can.
It's true. Nothing breaks a guy's spirit
like a skinny kid getting up off the floor.
Some nights I could see the moment I won
before I won. I'd take every punch
that some fighter could think of, I'd feel them
just let themselves loose in my gut till they
let go or sometimes the gut and the head
and the gut one more time and here's something
no fighter will tell you: there's a sound
you make when you hit and you hit and you're
nothing but motion. It's not like sounds
you make with your wife or a girl, it's rougher
and darker and sometimes it feels better
and after you feel so relaxed. You can't
really explain it and make it sound
normal. But a lot of folks know what I
mean. And I'd let the guy do it, let him
get to where he'd want me to hold him
up for a bit. He would almost thank me
for not falling down. We'd stand there till
the ref pushed us apart. Both of us catching
our breath. And those big guys just couldn't
believe it, that I was still there, not passed
out on the mat. One time I even whispered,
"It's over" in this guy's ear. Real quiet
so as not to embarrass him. Just, "Look."
And then I walked back to my corner
and then I came out and punched him once
in the jaw. He looked up like someone called
him for dinner and then he just fell.
I can still see him against the blue of the mat
like when you're lying down and a man
comes into view above you with the whole sky
What I'm trying to say is
a body can take a hell of a lot. It's
100 degrees today in this city.
And still the kids are out on the streets,
the women are outside at the market,
there's the girl in the next building learning
to play violin. And sure they're all sweating
and wiping their foreheads but who's gonna
say, "Stop." They don't want to. That's the truth.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi was born in Central Connecticut. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including a Stegner fellowship in Poetry, a Jones Lectureship in Poetry at Stanford University and a Rona Jaffe Woman Writers' Award. Her poem "Circus Fire, 1944" received The Paris Reviews' Bernard F. Conners Prize. Her first collection, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart was published by Persea Books in 2005 and won the Connecticut Book Award. It was shortlisted for the Northern California Book Award . Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals and online publications including; The Paris Review, The New England Review, Gulf Coast and Guernica. A new multi-media piece is forthcoming online on The Owls.She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA program at California College of Arts in San Francisco and in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Warren Wilson College. She will be a visiting professor at Bennington College in the fall of 2009. Her second collection, Apocalyptic Swing is out now from Persea Books.
You can follow Gaby on Twitter at @Gabbat