Pugnax Gives Notice

He’s done with it, the tridents and tigers,
the manager’s greed, the sumptuous beds
of noble women who please their own moods.
He’s done with dogging it for the crowds,
the stabbing, the slashing, the strangling,
the poor pay, the chintzy palm branch prizes.
Make no mistake. Pugnax is a real fierceosaurus.
Winner of 26 matches, a forum favourite.
Yet his yob genes have, it seems, gone quiet.
Fatigue has called his soul back to his body.
Circles under his eyes; he sleeps badly.
Late night cigs lit from the dog-end of the last,
cutwork of the clock nibbling him small.
In the barracks around him his friends snore,
lucky returnees of the last hard hacking,
dead to the world, free of a weapon in the fist.
Priscus face-down in the crook of his arm.
Triumphus flung open, caught on a bad turn.
Verus collapsed, whacked, against the cot.
Flamma, doomed by down-thumbing shadows,
lies in a stain of his final shape and size.
Pugnax loves them all, chasers and net-fighters,
fish-men and javelin-throwers, carefree
despite punishing practices, screaming orders,
despite limbs trained to turn lethal for mobs
unable to bear the thought of two men
clinging to life, but here it’s only the thock
of wooden sword against wooden sword,
the racket as they fall on each other’s shields
in joy. Pugnax’s heart breaks for them.
Understand, he has inflicted pain and felt pain,
but now wants to go native, move into a flat,
experiment with fashionable clothes,
dawdle at the baths, tame his nights with tea,
be spellbound by the smell of soap, find a wife.
Our boy dreams of joining the crowd,
shouting himself hoarse as some bonehead
gets knocked down and the blade pushed
though his chest, stapling him to the ground.
At intermission, he’ll watch as the blood
is raked over with sand, thinking chore thoughts:
yard work, paint jobs, weekend projects.

fn0. _Arc_ 60, Summer 2008

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