$100 PRIZE
by Gerardo Mena
There are small things that I’ve come to miss
dearly in this twilight:  the slow concentric wrap
of knuckles and hands in athletic tape, the whisper

of pre-match punches as they sing
through shadow and atmosphere,
the way a belly empties

its contents before every battle,
those fierce battles, that clash of egos,
drawn together by the gravitational

pull of pride, we savage gladiators—standing
for something, our entire lives, our families,
our names and legacies strung across our backs,

everyone we’ve ever met, or will meet, hanging
upon this knockout, this decision—our faces holding
that bright Vaseline sheen, heaving sweet

oxygen into our lungs, waiting
for that shrill peal to turn
the world into snap jabs,

right hooks, flashbulbs.
Now I didn’t win them all, I was never
a champion, but when I would eat

an uppercut, when my body sprawled out rigid upon canvas,
my eyes violently crossed and swimming in a sea of falling
yellow stars, my limbs moving as if underwater,

most times I could will myself back
up to my feet, hear my opponent sigh and mutter
from behind his mouthpiece:
that punch should’ve killed

, could spy them shaking their heads
because lesser men would’ve quit, would’ve
hugged their guts trying to stop that throb

that shakes a liver, a kidney, a spleen, inside
of a battered body ten rounds deep
into a war, but I didn’t know how to give.

I would rather have let my brains spill
over the crowded bar, the peanut shell covered
floor, a spectator’s beer, or lap,

than to have stopped swinging,
because a win was always a lucky haymaker
away, and I always needed the purse.

And when I die, maybe soon, maybe not,
my hands now broken so many times they can no longer hold
a fist, the tremors so violent I can’t feed myself,

my head slightly lop-sided, my brow
thicker than most, I will carry this into the dark:  
I never went down easy.

Gerardo Mena is a decorated Iraqi Freedom veteran. He spent six years in
Special Operations with the Reconnaissance Marines and was awarded a Navy
Achievement Medal with a V for Valor. He won the "2010 War Poetry Contest"
sponsored by Winning Writers, was nominated for a Pushcart, and was selected
for inclusion in "Best New Poets 2011." He has poems published or forthcoming in
Cream City Review, Raleigh Review, Diagram, Nashville Review, and Barely South
Review, among others. For more information go to
I wish I knew where this
poem came from. I am
the author, of course, but
it was scribbled down
furiously into a notebook
and is based on my
grandfather, who died of
cancer right before I
deployed to Iraq a few
years back. He led an
amazing and interesting
life, one that someone
could be proud of. The
first draft happened very
quickly, and then several
small cuts and cleanups
later and I knew this
poem (wherever it came
from) was ready to be
shared with the world.