The Set-Up Joseph Moncure March (1928)



Pansy had the stuff, but his skin was brown
And he never got a chance at the middleweight crown.

Mean as a panther,
Crafty as a fox,
He could hit like a mule,
And he knew how to box.
A dark-skinned jinx
With eyes like a lynx,
A heart like a lion,
And a face like the Sphinx:
Battered, flat, massive:
Always impassive.

He was supple of build,
Heavy above,
With legs slim.
Light as a cat on his feet.
His neck was solid.
His arms were long.
His bones were heavy,
And his hands were strong;
And whenever he moved, you could see the lithe
Muscles under his skin writhe.
He was slick:
Each movement was like a trick.

Inside the ropes, he moved the way
A tiger does when it stalks its prey.
He got you nervous:
You never knew
Just what the hell he was going to do –
But he knew all about you.
Lead with your left –
You hit thin air.
Throw in with your right –
His shoulder was there.
Always an elbow,
A wrist,
A mitt:
He knew what was coming before you hit.
He slipped what he couldn’t block.
His blows were timed like a clock.
He’d warm up slow:
He’d let you go
For maybe a couple of rounds or so.
Then he’d start.
One left –
One right –
And you’d wonder who told you
You could fight!
Try and do it!
It was over before you knew it.
He’d carve you up like a leg of mutton
And drop you flat with a sock on the button.


He fought all comers,
And he reached his prime:
And he stayed there waiting,
Marking time.
Now was his chance for the title –
Or never:
Each month was vital.
When you get that far, you either click
Or you hit the skids, and go down quick.

His managers sweated.
They did what they could.
They schemed
And they wheedled –
But it did no good.
The months slid by:
The title hung high:
No Pansies need apply.

Some of the sporting writers tried
To throw their weight on Pansy’s side.
They waxed sarcastic,
Biting, drastic
On the subject of champs that won the crown
And after they got it, then lay down!
Come on,
Take a sniff at Pansy’s glove!
What was the champ so scared of?
No box-office attraction?
They wanted action!

Sudden disaster:
A final hope-blaster.
The brass-knuckled hand of the law
Hung a hot one on Pansy’s jaw.
Dissection of his private life
Revealed that he had an extra wife
And three scrawny brats
Living like alley cats.

“Not guilty,” Pansy pled.
“Guilty,” the jury said.

Elections were coming.
The judge was firm.
Pansy went up for a five-year term.



Time out.
Ten years pass.
Fighting bodies have gone to grass.
Some lie under grass,
Even their names have been forgotten.

Fresh blood,
New hopes
Inside the old ropes.
Kids that wet their short pants
Ten years back get their chance:
Champions in the making.

A fighter’s life is short at best.
No time to waste,
No time to rest.
The spotlight shifts,
The clock ticks fast;
All youth becomes old age at last.
All fighters weaken.
All fighters crack.
All fighters go –
And they never come back.

So it goes:
Time hits the hardest blows.



Herman’s bar, where hoodlums met
With parasites of the sporting set:
A cellar Speak,
Clammy, dark,
Stale beer,
Dead butts,
The place stank to turn your guts.
Filthy sawdust.
Greasy brass.
Finger smears on every glass.
Dusty tumblers standing stacked
Before a mirror badly cracked.
Thin tin
Colored signs
Advertising beers and wines
Hung dirt-crusted,

Another room in back,
Battered round table tops,
Damp from beer slops.
Rickety chairs.
Cracked walls
Overrun with pencil scrawls
And pictures:
Clipped from the Sunday Rotos.
Boxing bouts.
Speed snaps from bike races.
Baseball kings in prideful poses
Holding enormous wreaths of roses.
Big blond bathing dames
Looking coy in gold frames.

Higher things were not forgotten:
Under a faded flag of cotton
Woodrow Wilson’s narrow face
Stared three-quarters into space,
A face above beer.

Three o’clock.
The bar was crowded,
Dim lit,
Smoke shrouded.
Dark figures slouched,
Above the damp wood.
They spat.
They drank.
They huddled flank to flank.

Behind the bar, Herman Brecht:
A man built to command respect.
An ox.
Six-four in his socks.
Square head,
Face red,
Pitted with smallpox.
Under his lumpy nose curled
A black moustache with the ends twirled,
And on his low forehead sat
One black curl, pasted flat.


The smoke swirled,
The door swung wide,
And a couple of shivering
Red-nosed customers blew inside.

Meet this pair:
Two of the worst –
And sew your shirt to your back, first.
The little one is Spider Stone.
Look at his face –
Let him alone.
Maggot-white, the puffy skin
Melted and dripped below his chin.
Small furtive eyes,
Cold, glassy, wise.
Above stained teeth
His mouth hung slack
With one of the corners hooked back.
Out of this corner drooped a wet
Smouldering Turkish cigarette.
A derby cocked over one eye
And a diamond horseshoe stuck in his tie
Gave him a rakish, jaunty air,
Repulsive and debonair.

The bird with him was Fingers MacPhail.
He looked like something
Lost in the mail:
Dirty, battered, fringed;
Tattered, yellow-tinged.
Pig’s eyes, close together.
Skin like rusty shoe leather.
Yellow teeth.
Hair like straw.
A rat-trap mouth,
And a lantern jaw.
A pickpocket once, he had risen to fame
And had earned the right to his nickname.
Then his luck ran out:
He had tried to snatch
A handsome seventeen-jeweled gold watch
From a crippled man.
This proved a mistake:
The cripple had promptly proceeded to break
His head wide open with a heavy crutch,
And from then on, Fingers had lost his touch.
He tried one safe, but couldn’t crack it;
Did three years in the pen
And then
Drifted into the fight racket.

He and Spider had met one night
In the bowels of the Garden, after a fight.
That night, a management team was born:
Stone and MacPhail,
Lice of the ring.
God help the fighters on their string!
They framed ‘em,
Set ‘em up.
No matter who won,
They never lost.
So has a snake got hips!
Stone and MacPhail –
The perfect gyps.

They squeezed to the rail.
Stone blew his nose.
He cleared his throat
And his thin voice rose:
“How they hangin’, Herman?” he said.
Herman looked up.
He nodded his head.
He came forward without haste,
Wiping big hands on his aproned waist.
He eyed the two:
“Tony Diamond was looking for you.”

‘Yeah?” they said, in chorus:
“Tony lookin’ for us?”

‘Yeah,” said Herman:
“He’s out in back.”
He jerked his thumb,
Plunged a stack
Of dirty glasses into grey
Rinsing water,
Turned away;
Face blank
Polite –
But his lips were clamped tight.

They went in back.
Tony was there
At a corner table, slouched in his chair
A small-time manager
With big-time hopes;
Just beginning,
But he knew the ropes.
Hard as a sidewalk.
A guttersnipe.
One of the swaggering, loud-mouth type.

He got to his feet as they came in,
Flashed them a thin
Mirthless grin:
“Where the hell have you birds been?
I’m gonna be late for a date
Wit’ a hot floozie –
But she can wait.
A he-man – that’s me!
I treat ‘em rough see?
Siddown! Jeez!
Have a seat!
Siddown, and take a load off your feet!?

MacPhail looked sour,
At a los for words.
He hated these god-damned social birds.
“Hello,” he muttered,
And spat.
He pulled out a chair
And sat.

But Stone had manners.
He held out his hand.
His air was familiar,
“Well!” he said, “So they’re hangin’ high!
You ought to lay off that Spanish fly.”
He winked a cold
Fish-like eye;
His grin was knowing,
He sat down, rubbing his hands together
And added “My God –
What lousy weather.
Every winter, it gets colder –
Or maybe it’s just that I’m gettin’ older . . . “

“Ah,” said Tony, “don’t give me that line –
You ain’t a day over seventy-nine.
Gus!” he yelled.
A waiter appeared,
Perspiration smeared.

“Two whiskey sours, and a beer –
And make it dark –

They settled back, lost in thought,
Waiting until the drinks were brought.

In the opposite corner slumped a pair
Of heavy tarts with bleached hair.
Open fur coats displayed
Threadbare linings
Thin summer frocks with blue
Brassieres showing through.
Big breasts.
Wide hips.
Loose mouths with red lips.
Short skirts.
Crossed knees.
Ten inches above these
Sheer stockings ended in
A glimpse of garter and white skin.
Slowly they smoked.
Slowly they drank:
Faces white,
They stared at nothing with eyes of stone:
They chose to be left alone.

Stone studied their legs
With glazed eyes.
Veins in his forehead began to rise.
He licked his lips,
“There’s two I wouldn’t kick out of bed!”

“Ah,” said Tony, “they ain’t so hot.
Beef to the heels!
What have they got?
Jeez, you oughta see my skirt –
She makes them look like so much dirt!”
“Yeah?” said MacPhail;
He looked depressed.
He fumbled in the lower pocket of his vest,
Pulled out a knife,
Began to pare
His yellow nails with care.

The drinks arrived on a rusty tray.
MacPhail closed his knife,
Put it away.
The drinks were placed.
The waiter withdrew.
“Well – “ said Tony,
“Here’s lookin’ at you!”

The glasses rose:
They drank.
They sighed:
The glasses sank.

Tony hunched forward,
Wary eyed;
He cocked his head to one side:
By the way –
You’ve heard of this bird
Named Sailor Gray –?”

Stone shook his head.
MacPhail looked dim.
“Nah, who d’hell ever heard of him?”

“Ah, give that high-hat stuff the air!
You don’t know Gray?
Jeez, what a pair!
He’s a fighter, see?
He fights.
In the ring.
He’s god-damned good,
An’ he’s on my string!”

“Yeah?” said Stone, “is that so!
A fighter, eh?
Well, whadda yuh know!
A fighter, eh?
Say, that’s slick!
Who the hell did he ever lick?”
He chuckled faintly.
He took a drink.
He gave MacPhail a broad wink.

Tony Diamond burned.
He tried to look unconcerned.
“Ah, hell!
Nuts to you
You don’t kid me like you think you do!
Cut this kiddin’ stuff,
I ain’t got enough time!”

MacPhail blinked.
Stone looked resigned:
“Well,” he said, “What’s on your mind?”

Tony frowned.
His voice turned gruff:
“The kid’s okay, see?
He’s got the stuff;
But you know
An’ I know
That ain’t enough.
The best man wins’ –like hell!”
Said Tony.
“That stuff is all so much baloney!

One year more–Gray’ll be set.
But I ain’t takin’ no chances yet.
He’ll do big time –
But he’s gotta be nursed:
The kid’s gotta have his record first.
He’s won twelve fights out of twelve
This season,
Ten of ‘em kayos –
An’ there’s a reason . . .

Now listen:
I got him booked for a fight.
The Star Arena.
Next Monday night.
Six-round bout.
It’s a damn good thing.
How’s it for somebody off your string?”

“Yeah?” said MacPhail.
Stone pushed back his hat:
“Well – we might do somepin’, at that.”
He scratched his head,
Pursed his lips,
Drummed on the table with his finger tips.

“How about Carter–?” MacPhail suggested.
The Spider shrugged:
“He won’t take a dive
For less than a hundred and seventy-five.”
Diamond turned pale.
‘Christ!” he protested,
“You talk like this was a title bout!
If it costs over fifty,
It’s strictly out:
I ain’t even interested.”

The Spider shook his head.
“No dice.
We ain’t got nothin’ at that price.”

“Ah,” said Tony, “save your breath.
Most of your fighters
Are starvin’ to death.
They’d take a dive
If you tossed ‘em a dime.
Now stop givin’ me a hard time.”

MacPhail blinked.
His eyes met Stone’s.
He said “Well – how about Pansy Jones?


Ten minutes later
They rose.

“Okay!” said Tony –
“That goes.
Star Arena
Monday night . . .
Jeez, you’re a couple of gyps, all right!
Sixty bucks!
Oh, well –
It’s a good set-up,
So what the hell!”

They started out .
The Spider went last.
He paused,
Grinned at the tarts as he passed.
“Oh, baby!” he said, clucking his tongue,
“Them two would make a mummy feel young!”

They stiffened.
They sat on guard.
Their eyes were hostile,
One of them raised her head;
She spoke
Hoarsely, through blue, leaking smoke:
“A-ah, take a walk
Or I’ll bust your snout!”

Her eyes flamed.
Stone hurried out.



The Star Arena reeked with age:
It smelled like the bottom of a monkey cage.
It stood immense
Between small shops and tenements:
Sinister looking,

A glittering white
Arc light
Glared against the black night,
Making great shadows sprawl
Over the crumbling brown wall,
And bringing out the rigid shapes
Of long, slanting fire escapes.

Under this lamp, a crowed stirred
Wading through darkness,

In high relief, sharp weird
Parts of human forms appeared:
Shoulders jostled, light-splashed.
Hats stuck out,
Dented, gashed.
Wrinkles made black cracks
Across yellow, swaying backs.
Faces nodding,
Turned in talk,
Were masks cut from white chalk.
Mouths were holes.
Looked like deep, black pockets.

The crowd shivered.
Above their heads
Their breaths rose in white shreds.

They grumbled.
They swore.
They edged towards the main door.
Slowly they stumbled up the wide
Unseen steps, and pushed inside.


The dressing rooms in the old Star
Had gone out of date with the horsecar.
They were lousy dumps:
Two of a kind.
Enter –
And leave the kiddies behind.

A dirty bulb swung by a cable
Over a battered rubbing table.
The crude glare
Fell on bare
Gleaming flesh, and underwear.
Open trousers bagged,
Shirt-tails flopped.
Belts dragged.
Backs bent down:
Flushed faces
Scowled over shoelaces.
Shoes thumped.
Knees rose.
Hands clawed at sweaty hose
With holes in their toes.

A row of lockers stood:
Made of wood.
Hinges loose.
Locks rusted.
Doors with half their slats busted:
Genuine Antiques –
Used by them ancient Greeks.

Another Antique –
The toilet.
No modern touch to spoil it.
Pitch black.
You had to go in
With your nose done up in a clothespin.
Wash your hands?
Have a drink?
Observe this handsome
Stopped-up sink.
Here is your shower:
It’s on the fritz.
If you don’t like it –
Move to the Ritz.
Go in like a little man;
Come out as quick as you can.
Trust to your smell
Instead of your sight,
And be thankful to God
There is no light!

There were handlers in the dressing room,
Water splashed.
A bucket banged.
Bath towels flapped.

Some of the seconds lounged at ease:
They sat with their elbows on their knees,
Parked on a bench with stenciled black
Numbers across its back.

It was almost time for the first bout.
They kept pulling their watches out.
They’d give the watch a glance,
Then shove it back in their pants –
Then pull it out again, as if in doubt.

No air.
Hot as hell.
The room reeked with a triple smell:
Toilet disinfectant
With stale sweat and liniment.


One lad was ready.
He sat still,
White lipped.
He looked ill.
A faded purple dressing gown
Hung from his shoulders,
Sagging down.
His eyes were narrowed.
He sat there tense,
Face drawn,
Pinched with suspense.
He licked his lips,
Stared at the bands
Of white tape that covered his hands.

A second went over,
Grimly gay:
“Well –
How you feelin’, kid?

The lad nodded his head.
Okay,” he said.

His breath came quickly.
His smile was sickly.
A sudden spasm:
He shook.
His eyes had a glazed look.
he leapt up,
Covered his mouth,
With his head bowed
For the door of the can.

The second grinned at the rest of the bunch:
“Jeez –
The kid is losin’ his lunch!”

Their eyes narrowed,
They smiled with their teeth bared.
“Yeah,” said one,
Watching the door:
“I seen ‘em pull that stunt before.”

“Yeah,” said the second:
“The kid’s all right.
He’s nervous,
It’s his first fight.”

The lad came out.
His ears flamed.
He slunk to his chair,
And sat there ashamed.

A bald-headed thin
Sweatered man rushed in.
He stopped,
MacMullen!” he howled.

The kid stood up,

“Take the lead out of your tail!
Why he hell don’t yuh keep awake!
They’re waitin’ for yuh,
Fer Christ’s sake!”
His handlers stirred;
They rose:
“All right, kid –
On your toes!”

The kid nodded.
He tried to smile.
They went through the door
In single file.


Footsteps out in the hall.
Two shadows sprang on the wall.
The footsteps paused,
Two voices came through the door,
For a minute, they argued in undertones.
A face peered in:
The face was Stone’s.
Over his shoulder blinked MacPhail ,
Grim as a rusty nail.

“Hi there, Louie!
Hi there, Max!”

Two lounging handlers straightened their backs.
“Hi,” they said.
Each raised a hand.
They uncrossed legs,
But did not stand.

Stone and MacPhail came through the door.
They stopped,
Spat on the dusty floor.
They looked around –

“Where the hell is Pansy gone?”

One of the handlers stifled a yawn:
“Dunno,” he said:
“He ain’t here yet.”

The Spider seemed upset.
“God-damn that smoke!
He’s always late!
I’ll bawl the hell outta him –
Just wait!”

The handlers were silent.
They stared out toward
The opposite wall,
Completely bored.
A blond expressionless Swede,
Pulled out a tabloid
And started to read.

Across the room,
A fighter stood bent
Lacing his shoe,
His foot was up on the edge of the table.
He balanced stork-like,

Something snapped.
His foot fell.
“There goes the god-damned shoestring to hell!”
He paused, shaking handed.
Slowly his chest expanded.
“Christ Almighty for Jesus sake . . . !”

His voice rose
Started to break.
His neck and ears grew stained with red.
He lifted clinched hands above his head.
He stood there glaring,

His second watched from the other side
Of the rubbing table,
“Watch it, kid–”
His voice was steady:
“Come on, now –
You gotta get ready.
Forget the shoestring,
That’s all right.
Let’s have your hands –
We ain’t got all night . . . ”

From far off,
The echo of a roar
Drifted in through the open door.

Stone cocked his head,
“They’ve started! . . . ”
His eyes glistened.


A figure loomed on the door sill,
Paused for a moment,
Stood there still.
Across heavy shoulders spread
A checked suit, black and red.
Under sharply creased pants,
God knows whose
Cracked evening shoes
Shone with battered elegance.
Yellow gloves.
No overcoat.
Green muffler around his throat.
Over his nose, a rakish brown
Long-visored cap was pulled down;
And under one arm, some lumpy thing
Was wrapped in newspaper,
Tied with a string.
Lynx eyes glinted,
Took in the place.
White teeth flashed in a dark bronze face.

Stone raised a flabby hand,
He gave
The smiling figure a jerky wave:
“Hi there, Pansy!
Where yuh been?
We thought you got lost.
Come in –
Come in!”

Pansy came in with a slow stride,
Gravely he smiled.
He bowed his head:
“Good evenin’ Mistuh Stone,” he said.
His manner was gracious,
Carefully right.

He turned to MacPhail, repeating
The same impressive greeting.
MacPhail started to tip his hat –
Decided not to;

Louie and Max rose.
They stretched,
They swayed on their toes.

“Hi, Pansy!” they said
In a friendly tone.

“How ‘do!” said Pansy.
His white teeth shone.
He felt more at east
With birds like these.
They seemed to talk a language he knew,
And he felt somehow that they liked him, too.


He started to get undressed.
Off came his coat and vest.
He stood there blazing
In a rainbow shirt
So loud it would make your eardrums hurt.

“Some shirt!” said the Spider.
He winked at MacPhail:
“Where yuh get it, kid –
At a fire sale –?”
He giggled,
Tongue in his cheek.
Stone had a whimsical streak.

Pansy paused with his belt unbuckled.
He glanced back over his shoulder,
Off came his pants.
He began to fold
Them carefully.
His lynx eyes rolled.

“Yes suh!” he said.
“This shirt sure grand!
Ah held four Aces in my hand.
Got this shirt,
Got this cap.
Poker suits me
Better’n crap.

Yes Suh!” he added;
He tugged at his tie:
“Ah sure is lucky –
An’ that’s no lie.”

Again that echo of a roar:
Louder than before.

“Come on!” snapped a voice:
“Whadda yuh say–?”

A group started for the doorway.
The man who’d broken his shoelace led:
Eyes like slits,
Out-thrust head.
He snarled to himself
With teeth set tight.
He looked as though he would bite.


MacPhail nudged Stone:
He scowled:
“Let’s go upstairs . . .” he growled.

The Spider said: “Not yet –
I gotta get Pansy set.”

Pansy looked up from a shoelace.
Stone’s eyes swerved,
Avoided his face.

“Purple trunks for you,” Stone said.
He pushed his derby back on his head.
Hands in his pockets,
He wavered there,
Swaying a little, with a thoughtful air.
He jerked,
Bent at the knees;
Jangled some keys.

He nodded to himself.
He stopped swaying.
“Well–” he said,
‘What was I saying . . .?
The purple trunks.
Well – that’s all, I guess.
Three fours,
One six –
And then your bout.
You oughta knock dis Sailor out.
He’s easy, see?
Just watch his right.
But what d’hell–
You know how to fight!”

“Yes suh!” said Pansy.
His teeth shone:
‘Yes suh – thank you, Mistuh Stone!”

Stone smiled.
The smile was rigid,
“Well, then,” he said,
“We’re all set.
Just watch his right, now–
Don’t forget.”

MacPhail gave a rasping cough.
Stone turned.
They shuffled off.


They paused outside in the hall,
Stood leaning against the wall.
MacPhail spoke.
His tone was low:
“You don’t think we oughta let him know–?”

A match flared.
Stone started to smoke:
“Say, what the hell is this –
Some joke?
Let him know what, for Christ’s sake?”
He put out the match with a savage shake.

“Well–” said MacPhail,
“It’s nothin’ to me,
But Diamond paid for a sure thing,
If we told Pansy it was fixed that way
He’d throw the fight
An’ we’d be okay.

Split the sixty,
Give him a share,
And the Sailor cops it
Fair an’ square.
As it stands now, if the Sailor lost
Tony might think he was double-crossed.”

‘You’re kidding!” said Stone
With tremendous scorn:
“God Almighty,
You don’t know you’re born!
What did I ever do to deserve
A partner like you!
Where’s your nerve?
Only sixty bucks we got.
Split wit’ that dumb jerk–?
I should say not!

Listen –
I saw this Gray in the gym.
Pansy won’t stay two rounds wit’ him.
They’ll carry that nigger outa the ring
Wit’ his eyes shut
An’ his guts in a sling!
You wit’ your fairs and squares!
You give me grey hairs!
Where would you be
It it wasn’t for me!
Come on –
We’re going upstairs!”


Pansy peeled off purple socks
With holes for heels
And yellow clocks.
One-piece underwear –
No shirt:
Gym pants,
Edges grey with dirt.
Where the buttons had been
Was a safety pin.
This he unclipped.
Off they slipped.
He kicked them aside
And stood up stripped.

Ten years had got their claws in him.
He looked too sleek,
No longer trim.
Heavier, too;
Verging on fat;
Butt the real change seemed deeper than that.
It was something inside;
Hard to detect;
Not here–
Not there–
The general effect:
As though some tight string had been cut
And the whole works had loosened somewhat.

Max and Louie watched with wise
Critical, appraising eyes.
No remarks.
Still, you could sense
Their cool, detached indifference.
Pansy was through –
They knew.
Why didn’t he know it too?
Christ Almighty,
He ought to have quit
Long ago
And been done with it.
But here he was,
Half on the shelf –
And still trying to kid himself?
Well –
Why the hell should they burst out crying?

Said Max,
“You’re looking good to-night.”

Said Pansy,
I feel just right!”


Voices in the hall,
Feet drumming.
It sounded like a whole platoon coming.
In they steamed,
Jostling each other;
It looked like everybody
And his brother.

They should have had a band
And the Mayor’s committee
Waiting to give them a key to the city:
Christ knows what,
Led by a swaggering tough little mutt.

This pasty-faced two-bit bantam was dressed
In a wallpaper suit
And a bartender vest.
He was full of himself.
He scowled when he talked.
If you tied his elbows,
He couldn’t have walked.
He stuck out his chest
And sucked in his guts:
You gathered he thought
He was just the nuts.

Pansy stared.
His lynx eyes
Widened to twice their natural size.
“What for this big crowd come in here?”

Louie’s lips
Twisted in a sneer.
“That’s Battlin’ Fargo.
He havin’ it out
Wit’ a kid named Horowitz.
Feature bout.”

“Oh!” said Pansy,
He nodded.

His face brightened:
“If that boy fights
Like he can dress,
He’s big-time stuff
Or I miss my guess!”

“Yeah?” sneered Max:
“Him big time –?
He ain’t got the edge
On a worn-our dime.
You watch him fight
And you c an tell
What’s the matter with him –
He’s yelluh as hell.”

Pansy shook his head,
“Yelluh–?” he said,
“Now that’s too bad!
Yes suh, that’s bad . . .”
“But boy –
That sure is a han’some vest!”

His voice was wistful.
His bronze face took
On a childish
Far-off look:
As though he could see
In his mind’s eye
The vests he might have been able to buy.
God, what vests!
A vest a day?–
If only the breaks had come his way . . .

He shook his head,

He picked up his bundle,
Snapped the strings,
Unwrapped it ,
Took out his fighting things:
Two pairs of trunks,
Stained and faded;
A crimson bathrobe,
And his lucky shoes,
Old and loose,
Battered and scuffed
From constant use.

The purple trunks,
Stone said.
He discarded the black-and-red.
He stared at the trunks he had to don,
Then slowly he bent:
He pulled them on.


Halfway through
Lacing a shoe,
Pansy paused.
He cocked his head:
Listen to that crowd!” he said.

Louie yawned:
“That’s the second bout.
Wonder how that kid MacMullen
Made out . . .
Lost his lunch before you came.
Nervous as hell –
But the kid looked game . . .”

Pansy grunted,
Busy with his feet:
“Must be he done et
Somethin’ sweet.
Never eat sweet before a fight.
Lay off sweet stuff,
You’ll be all right.
Yes, suh –
That’s so.
Sweet’s bad for a fighter –
I know!”

Again the sweatered, thin
Bald-headed man rushed in.
“Third bout!” he barked:
“Munsey on deck!”

Munsey got up.
Christ, what a wreck!
You could tell at a glace
He hadn’t a chance,
This hulking,
Lumbering lout
With his knees knocking
And his feet splayed out.
He should have been pushing
A rusty plow;
Feeding the chickens,
Or milking a cow.
You looked,
And you wondered why in God’s name
He had ever gone into the fight game.

And what a beating the game had shown on him!
His own mother wouldn’t have known him.
Battered for years, his face had grown
Swollen of bone.
Cauliflower ear.
Cocoanut head.
Close-cropped hair,
His nose was flat,
Dented by a scar,
As though he’d been hit
With a crowbar.
His bumpy forehead hung over two
Deep sunken eyes of faded blue:
The eyes were sleepy,
Like those of a stupid child.

He stood there swaying,
With his eyes glazed,
Staring around him as though he were dazed.

“Snap out of it, Munsey!”
A second advised.

He started a little,
As though surprised:
“Awright . . . ” he muttered:
“Awright . . . Awright . . .
Don’t hurry me, see?
I’m fightin’ this fight . . .”


He was no sooner out
Than MacMullen came in,
Cocky as hell,
With a ten-inch grin.
His lips were puffed.
A red smear
Streaked one cheek from ear to ear.
Just under the eye
Was an oozing cut,
And the eye was swollen,
Beginning to shut.
“Howdja come out?” called Max,
“Didja nail ‘im?”

The kid nodded.
Words seemed to fail him.
He flushed a little,
Shy, grinning,
Bright of eye.

Behind him
His handlers grinned at the kid:
“Nail ‘im–?
I’ll say he did!
K.o.’d ‘im clean
At the end of the third.
A right to the button –
What a bird!

“Dat’s duh stuff! . . .”
“Dat’s duh way, kid –
Treat ‘em rough! . . .”

Fargo spoke
With a lofty air:
‘How much of a crowd
They got up there . . . ?”

“Oh–” said MacMullen;
He looked down,
Scratched his head
With a puzzled frown:
I dunno . . .
I guess it must be a big one, though.”

Fargo sneered,
Scornful eyed.
He sniffed loudly.
He turned aside.

MacMullen’s second
He gave the r rubbing table a smack:
“Come over here on the table, Mac!”

On top of the rubbing table a grey
Overcoat and hat lay.
The second started to move them away.
“Hey!” snapped Fargo:
“Give dat the air!
Say, what the hell
Are you doin’ there!
Leave dat be!
Dat’s my stuff,

“Yeah?” said the second
With a long sneer:
“Well get it the hell away from here!
You act like a movie star!
Who the hell do you think you are?

“Put dem down!” said Fargo,
“Put dem down
Before you get sloughed!”

Silence for a second.

The handler turned white.
His eyes glittered,
And his lips grew tight.
Then calm, quiet,
Without a word more,
He threw the hat and coat on the floor.

“Christ!” yelled Fargo,
Like someone had stabbed him.
He jumped for the second –
But his own men grabbed him.

“Leggo, god damn it!” Fargo said,
“I’ll push his face
T’rough duh back of his head!
I’ll break duh god-damned
Face off ‘im, see?
He can’t get away wid dat stuff
Wid me!”

He blustered,
Began to tug and squirm –
But the handlers held his elbows firm.

“Go easy, kid!”
“Put down your mitts!”
“Go easy –
Save it for Horowitz!”

He kept up the show
For a minute or so,
Then stopped.
“All right!” he growled,
“Leggo! . . .”

They let him go.
He turned away,
Face sullen,
Sulky, grey.
He went to a corner
And sat there,
Running his hands
Through his greasy hair.
He had a martyred air.

His gang clustered around,
One or two of them sat down by him;
Craftily tried
To soothe his pride;
But nothing they said would pacify him.

The rubbing table squeaked,
Slaps resounded.
Liniment reeked.
MacMullen lay on the table
Full length,
Wincing under his second’s strength.
The second’s jaw
Stuck out like a shelf.
He plucked and wrenched
With his teeth clenched,
And while he worked
He smiled to himself.
The smile was ironic,

Over the room a silence dropped,
Someone started to whistle through his teeth,
Cleared his throat,

Pansy winked.
His eyes rolled.
His teeth shone out
Dull ivory and gold:
“Boy–!” he whispered,
“That sure was fun!
I wish that handler
Had socked him one . . . !”


Three figures appeared.
They all three tried
To get through the doorway
Side by side.
It was two handlers,
And between them staggered
The fighter who’d broken his shoelace,
White of face,

They came in slowly.
His arms were flung
Over their shoulders.
He tottered,
His eyes were dilated,
Shot with red,
Staring straight ahead.

They led him to a bench.
Down he slumped,
Elbows on his knees,
Shoulders humped.
He sat there shaking all over,
His head in his hands,

The handlers watched him a minute,
Wondering what they should do next.
One of them turned to the other,
He looks pretty bad!” he growled.

“Yeah,” said the other,
“He looks pretty white.
Dat sock in the bread-basket
Got ‘im, all right!
He gave a short, grim laugh:
“I t’ought it would break
Duh kid in half!”

“Yeah,” said the first;
His head shook:
“How wouldja like
To take what he took!
Those left and right hooks
Over the heart –
The kid was cooked from the start!”

“Yeah . . .
When he started to mix wid dat Mick,
I says to myself
He’s up duh creek!
‘Don’t mix! I told ‘im:
‘Don’t mix! I said:
‘Jab wid yer left
To duh face and head –
But don’t mix, see?
Keep away from dat guy!’
Dat guy was a slugger,
Dat’s why.”

They nodded.
They looked wise.
They stared at the fighter
Through half-shut eyes.

He was getting better
By slow degrees.
He was quiet now.
He sat caved in.
Doubled up like a hairpin
With his chest resting on his knees.
His arms hung down.
His clenched fists
Lay on the floor,
Taped to the wrists.
Dark blood dripped from his nose
And spattered on the floor,
Just missing his toes.

“How yuh feel, kid–?”
“Yuh comin’ around–?”
Not a movement out of him.
Not a sound.
“Try layin’ down –
Dat might help some . . .”
His head shook slowly.
He sat there dumb.

“Well – take it easy,
You’ll be okay . . .!”

They smiled grimly.
They moved away.


Pansy was ready.
He sat there quiet,
Staring at the light,
Doped by it.
He sat hunched forward,
At ease;
Chin in his hands,
Elbows on his knees;
Motionless as a stone;

Suddenly his silence broke.
His voice was rough,
Gruff when he spoke:
“Hey, Louie,” he said
Without turning his head.

“What!” said Louie,
Slightly annoyed;
He was busy reading his tabloid.

“Hey, Louie,” said Pansy,
Staring at the light:
‘You ever seen this Sailor fight–?”

A pause
While Louie finished half
Of a long, lurid paragraph.

He turned the page
With a hairy paw:
“Have I seen duh Sailor fight–?
Naw! . . .”

The headline said.
His head bent further down.
He read . . .


Muted and distant, a drumming sound
Settled into a rhythmic pound:
A measured thump,
Like an engine down in a ship’s hull.
Hundreds of angry feet
Were stamping out that heavy beat.
The crowd was getting impatient,
They wanted action.
They wanted gore.
What had they paid good money for?
Munsey was up there,
Giving the fans a lousy show.

Thump – thump –
Give ‘em the hook!
Their feet pounded
Till the house shook.


The bald-headed thin
Sweatered man rushed in.
His face was red.
He looked unhappy.
“Fourth bout!” he yelped,
“An’ make it snappy!”

Up rose a swarthy, pig-faced giant.
He looked surly.
He looked defiant.
He sneered.
And his glittering eyes ran
Nastily over the bald-headed man.
“A-ah, nuts!” he muttered.
It seemed that the thin
Bold-headed one got under his skin.
For reasons unknown,
He’d like to attack
That yelping bastard, and break his back.

The victim-to-be glared.
He didn’t seem to be scared.
“Hey!” he yelped,
“Snap outa yer mope!
Don’t stand dere
Lookin’ like a god-damned dope!”

The giant’s face grew darkly red.
“Ah, what duh hell is yer rush!” he said.
He panted a little
Stood there glaring –
A little uneasy at his own daring.

The eyes of the bald-headed man grew cold.
His voice turned hard:
“You do like you’re told!
You ain’t nothin’!
I’m runnin’ dis show.
You do like I say –
Or out yuh go!
Don’t try to pull no fresh stuff,
Dat kinda stuff don’t pass wit me!”

“Ah, hell . . .” the giant muttered,
“Ah, hell . . .”
He stood abashed.
His eyes fell.

Out the bald man rushed.
The giant followed,


Max watched them out.
After they’d gone
He relieved himself of a tearing yawn.
His spine curved in,
His arms rose,
“Well . . .” he sighed:
“I guess we’re next.”

Pansy didn’t say a word.
He nodded a little,
To show he’d heard;
That was all.
He just sat there
Watching the light
With that glittering stare.
His eyes were slits.
His breathing was deep.
He looked as though
He were almost asleep –
Except for his eyes:
His eyes were too bright.
They glinted like chips of glass
In the light.


MacMullen was dressed,
Ready to go.
He stood there restless
For a minute or so.
He pulled out his watch,
Looked at the time,
Fumbled in his pocket,
Unearthed a dime.

“Hey–!” he called to his handler:
You got two nickels for a dime–?”
He said:
“I gotta make a phone call
Up th’ street . . .”

Ed grinned:
His grin was knowing,
He gave him the change
And a friendly shove:
“All right, kid,
Beat it!–
An’ give her my love . . . !”


Munsey came lurching in
Like a souse.
He looked like something
From a slaughterhouse.
One eye was closed,
One ear was a wreck:
The blood slid from it
Down the side of his neck.
His mouth was formless,
All over his face in a smear of red.

But Munsey didn’t seem to mind.
He had some other axe to grind.
“Lemme alone . . .” he muttered;
You lemme alone!
Who’s fightin’ this fight . . .?
‘At’s awright –
Don’ try and tell me!
You lemme alone!
I’m doin’ this,
See . . .?!

Every other step he tried
To jerk from the handlers
That walked on each side.
They were patient.
They held his elbows tight:
“Sure!” they said:
“Yeah, sure – that’s right.”
“Nobody’s tellin’ yuh how to fight . . .”

They winked at each other:
“Crazy wit’ duh heat . . . !”
“Yeah – w
The bastard’s out on his feet.”

They set him down on the bench
With care.
He muttered,
Swayed as he sat there.
They slopped a wet sponge
Over his head:
“He’ll come outa dis all right”
One said.
“Sure! said the other, with a crooked grin:
“Sure . . . !”

The bald-headed man rushed in.

“Fift’ bout!” he yelled
in savage tones:
“Where duh hell are you,
Pansy Jones . . . ?”


Pansy stirred,
He stood up

“Come on,” said Max:
“Whadda yuh say!”

Louie put his tabloid away.
Over his shoulders Pansy flung
His faded bathrobe.
He held it wrapped
Closely about him.
The sleeves flapped.
They hung empty,

“You got duh gloves, Louie–?”


“All right.
Come on then.
Whadda yuh say!”
They turned together,
Started for the door.

The bucket jerked,
Slopped on the floor.
Max stopped,
Shifted it,

“-A-ah!” yelled Fargo:
Don’t youse tell me!–
Youse don’t know nothin’ about it,

“–Awright, Munsey.
Dat’s awright, kid –”

“–Sure he licked ‘im!”
“Duh hell he did–!”

“–Say, where duh hell
Is my hat gone to–?”

“–So he feints wit’ his left,
An then he breaks through–”

“–Ah , you’re nuts – dat fight was sold–!”

“–If you hadn’t of mixed,
You’d of had ‘im cold–!”

“–What’ll yuh bet?”

“I know–
Dat’s all . . . !”

The voices grew jumbled.

It was cold in the hall.



They came up the arena floor
In a back corner,
Near an exit door.

Entered all of a sudden, the place
Seemed vast,
Tremendous of space.
It made you feel
Small and unreal.
You shrank in size.
Your wrists looked little.
You stood there
Feeling light, and brittle.

The smell was like
Ten cattle cars,
Mixed with the reek
Of cheap cigars.

The crowd was a blur,
A thing made mostly
Of pallid faces,
A gallery jutted.
Its steep-pitched bank
Was solid with faces,
Rank above rank.

In the center of the floor,
The raised ring stood.
Over it hung a metal hood.
Light from this hood
Flung a savage glare
Over two figures fighting there.


The bald man came back,
Nodding his head:
“Stay right dere where you are!” he said:
“Dis’ll be over
In about a minute . . .”

Max set the pail down,
Dropped the sponge in it.
The three of them stood awhile
Staring at the ring
Down the corner aisle.

The figures in the ring were ponderous,
Neither seemed to have
Much to show.
They crouched,
Exchanged no blows.
Each was waiting
For the other to close.

The crowd sat hushed.
You could hear the muffled
Sound of the fighter’s feet
As they shuffled.
Around and around them
The referee went,
Head thrust out,
Knees bent.
He crouched,

“A – ah–!” yelled a high
Sarcastic voice:
“A – ah–fer Christ’s sake,
Get dem a hoise!
Get dem a hoise –
Dey’re both of dem dead.!”

More voices:

“Who’s ahead . . . ?”

Whatcha waitin’ for–
A change in duh weather . . . ?”

“Hey!–do youse two guys
Room together . . . ?”

General laughter followed this crack.
Heads turned around.
Faces peered back.
From up in the gallery
Came the sound
Of heavy feet beginning to pound.

The pair in the ring
Decided to close.
They sprang in
A roar rose.

“Jesus!” said Louie,
“Dat guy hits low . . . !
Didn’t I tell yuh so–?”

One of the fighters staggered,
He lay on the canvas
Doubled up, grasping
His guts with both hands,
The roar sank,

The referee sprang in,
Crouching low.
He waved back the man
Who had struck the blow.

Back to his corner this giant went,
Head bent.
He walked with a sulky
Aggressive air,
Trying to show he didn’t care.

“Foul! . . . Foul . . . !” the crowd clamored.
Handlers rushed in the ring.
They began
to work on the guts
Of the fallen man.
A bell clanged,


The ring cleared.
The clamor died.
Louie’s elbow dug Max’s side:
“Well–” he said,
“Here goes!
Come on now–
On your toes!”

Max lifted the bucket:
“Okay,” he said.
They went up the aisle
In single file,
With Pansy striding ahead.

As they came into sight
A murmur swelled.

“Dere’s a black cloud a-comin’ . . . !”
Somebody yelled.

Appropriate laughter
Greeted this joke.

“Jesus!” they murmured:
Lookit duh smoke . . . !”

“Gonna be some action dis time . . .”

“Dat’s right . . .”

“Hey dere, black-boy –
You know how to fight . . . ?”

Crowds were to Pansy
As heat is to Hell:
They suited him fine,
They made him feel swell.
His supple back stiffened.
His blunt chin rose.
He strutted a little
On lively toes.
His grin was friendly,
His grin was wide:
He felt that the crowd
Was on his side.

In the shadow of the ring
They came to a stop.
“Phew!” Max said.
He let the pail drop:
“Jesus Christ!” he shook his head:
“Dat god-damn pail is heavy as lead!”

“A-ah,” said Louie,
“Pull in yer neck!
You’re nothin’ but a god-damned
Physical wreck!
You’d think it was heavy
From the line you pull.
Why, Jesus Christ,
It ain’t half full!”

“Yeah?” said Max,
“Is that so!
You ain’t ever carried it –
How can you know?”

“A-ah!” said Louie
With tremendous scorn,
“I was carryin’ pails
Before you was born!
Come around some time–
I’ll show yuh how;
I ain’t got time
To fool wit’ you now . . . !”

He chuckled,
Pulled out a deck of gum.
He took a slice.
He offered Max some.


“No thanks.”

Louie put it away.
“Let’s put on your gloves, kid –
Whadda yuh say . . . ?”


“How do they fell?
Are they good and tight–?”

“Yeah, said Pansy,
“They feel all right . . .”
He stood there pushing his hands together,
Shoving each hand further
Into the leather.

The announcer came up:
Moon face.
Bald head.
Nose with a wart.
“How about it–?
You guys all set?”

“Sure,” said Max,
“Is the Sailor here yet?”

“Sure he’s here!
Get up in the ring!
Get up in yer corner!
Let’s start this thing . . . !”

“Okay,” said Louie,
“Hey, there, Max –
Throw us that stool!”

He caught the stool
With a deft swing:
“Let’s go–!”

They climbed up into the ring.


The crowd hummed.
The crowd chattered.
The smoke rose,

Cheap seats:
The crowd was tough.
None of your high-hat
Garden stuff.
A quarter.
A dollar.
You risked your life
In a winged collar.
Evening clothes?–
Try it!
You’d have started a god-damned riot.
Society women,
Dressed to kill,
Didn’t go there for their evening thrill.
Even whores of the cheapest sort
Avoided this dismal palace of sport:
Their finer instincts shrank to see
Such masculine brutality.

No, this crowd was strictly gents –
Using the term in its loosest sense:
Seedy drunks;
And pushers,
And pimply punks
With cold glassy eyes,
Sneering, contemptuous,
The city’s dregs:
Spawned in alleys
And slums.

Small wonder, then, that here you saw
The ominous blue and brass of the Law:
Burly cops, swinging their sticks:
Truculent police –
Aching to keep the peace.


Light glared down from the metal hood.
Pansy sat waiting.
He felt good.
He liked the smell.
He liked the bare
Grey canvas floor,
The ropes
The glare.
Once in the ring,
He never felt yellow;
He felt at home there,

Max and Louie were standing there
With crossed feet
And a patient air.
They stood leaning back
On either side,
Clutching the rope
With their arms wide.

They looked dopey .
They looked dumb.
They stood there silent,
Chewing their gum.

Gray appeared.

A few hoarse voices cheered.
The voices seemed
To come from one spot:
Some gang of Gray’s,
Likely as not.
Gray ducked in through the ropes,
Sat down.
He was bundled up in his dressing gown.

Pansy stared at what he saw:
Bull neck;
Heavy jaw;
Mouth like a slot;
Nose flat;
Green eyes,
Like an alley cat.
From just the little
There was to be seen,
Gray looked aggressive –
And he looked mean.

Something in Pansy grew suddenly tight.
He felt he was in for a nasty fight.


Diamond came running down the aisle.
His mouth was stretched
In a mirthless smile.
He reached the ring.
He stood underneath,
Showing his teeth.

He called to a handler:
“Sam!–Come here!”
He whispered into the handler’s ear . . .
“. . . Get me–?” he said,
Backing away.
The handler nodded;
He climbed up towards Gray.

Sam put his mouth down
Close to Gray’s head:
‘I just been talkin’
Wit’ Tony . . .” Sam said:
“Tony, he says the crowd is sore.
They ain’t had action enough before.
Tony says you better go slow:
Lay off
For a couple of rounds or so.
Take it easy.
Don’t do him no dirt.
Give the crowd its money’s wort’ . . .”

Gray nodded
With narrowed eyes:
“Okay–” he said:
“Okay–I’m wise . . .!”


The bell hammered,
The announcer’s arm began to lift.
He bellowed,
Mouth wide,
Turning from side to side:

An’ gents . . . !
An’ gents . . . !”
His voice roared out,

He paused, as a fierce dispute broke out
In the tenth row, where a tall thin
Man was trying to push his way in:

“. . . Get duh hell outa there!–
Dat’s my seat!”

“A-ah, gowan–
You’re crazy wit’ duh heat!” . . .

The announcer scowled at the card he held.
His head jerked up.
His chest swelled:
SAILOR GRAY . . . !”

The Sailor rose from his stool halfway,
Sat down again.

The dispute flared higher:
“. . . A-ah shut up!
You’re a god-damned liar?”

“Dat’s my seat!”

“Get outa here!”

“Gowan, I’ll give yuh
A bust on d’ear!”

“You an’ who else!”

The seated one rose,
And punched the thin man
Square in the nose.


Two cops came down the aisle,
And escorted the thin man out
In style.

Again the announcer’s stentorian tones:

Pansy half rose,
Bobbed left,
Bobbed right.
His grin flashed out,
Golden and white.

“Oh, Pansy de-ah . . .!”
It was girlish,
The house yelled.
They sat there rocking.

“Jesus!–what a name!”
A hundred voices
Took up the game;

“Whoops, Pansy . . . !”
“Come an’ be kissed!”
“Ooh, Pansy-Wansy!”
“Slap his wrist!”

The announcer bawled:

“. . . You must come ovah!”
“Don’t rape him, Gob!”

“Hey, where did you get
Dat boyish bob . . . !”

“Pansy . . .”
“Jesus Christ! . . .”
“Oh, boy!”

The crowd gasped,
Grew hoarse with joy.


The announcer ducked through the ropes,
Sat down.
Gray flung off his dressing gown.
Pansy slipped out of the robe he wore.
They shuffled their feet
On the resined floor.

Max picked Pansy’s bathrobe up:
“All right, Pansy–
Go get ‘em, pup . . .!”

“All set–?” said the referee:
“Whaddaya say–?”

Pansy crouched forward,
Staring at Gray.
The crowd grew out of focus,
Strangely remote,
Only half heard.
He saw Gray sharp,
He saw Gray clear:
Mouth like a slot:
Mouth with a sneer.
Sloping shoulders.
Neck like a steer.
Nick in his left ear.

The referee crossed in between.
Baggy grey trousers.
His sweater was green.
Pansy shifted,
Trying to see
Around the legs of the referee.


The bell clanged,
The air with its sudden stroke.
From somewhere behind:
“Go get ‘em, pup . . . !”

His knees grew taut.
He was standing up.
Out towards the center of the ring
He went,
Walking like a cat,

There came Gray
From the opposite side,

Their gloves touched,
The crowd sat

Pansy’s left hung low,
By his thigh.
His right was close to his head,
Everything about him moved.
He looked oiled,
A long-range fighter,
Heady and cool;
No longer young–
But nobody’s fool.

By contrast, Gray:
Built to stand up
Under wear and tear.
A plain slugger,
He stood square to the front,
Crouching a little.
Head rocking,
Feet wide;
Moving each hand a little bit,
Waiting his chance
To close
And hit.

They circled a moment,
Getting acquainted.
Pansy hitched up his left–
Feinted. Nothing stirring.

He feinted his right.
Still no reaction:
The Sailor held tight.

Pansy relaxed–
Sprang suddenly–
His left flashed up
To the Sailor’s head.

It caught Gray by surprise.
He shook his head,
Blinked his eyes.
He crouched,
Circled each fist.
He sprang in–

Pansy’s left
Snapped up like a whip.
Gray backed off
With a broken lip.

“Watch dat left . . . !”
A voice admonished.
Gray scowled,
Sullen, astonished.
The admonishing voice
Served to let loose
A shower of cracks,

“Come on here, Gray!–
Whaddayuh say . . . !”
“Dat left ain’t nothin’–
Brush that away . . . !”

“A-ah–” yelled the high
Sarcastic wit:
“Slap ‘im on duh wrist
An be done wit’ it . . . !”


Then suddenly:

“Dere he goes–!”

The sailor rushed;
Took one on the nose;
Hooked left,
Hooked right:
Short, vicious blows.
A flurry of cheers rose.

Pansy backed off,
One arm felt numb.
His left side hurt.
A hundred and sixty pounds–?
Like hell!
Somebody lied.
That hook in the side
Hurt like a hundred and seventy flat:
That was Gray’s weight–
Or more than that.
A hundred and sixty pounds–
Like hell . . . !
His left snapped.
Gray rushed . . .

The bell!


Pansy sat in his corner.
Louie and Max
Hovered about him attentive,
With bent backs.
He was breathing easy,
Hardly beginning to sweat.
So far, so good;
He didn’t need them yet.

They gave him the bottle:
The water was warm,
He gargled a mouthful,
Spat it out in the pail.
Max rubbed the bath towel
Over his face and head:

How d’yuh feel–?
D’yuh feel okay?” Max said.
“Yeah,” said Pansy:
“Yeah – I feel okay . . .”
He nodded a little.
He sat there staring at Gray.

Max cleared his throat:
“You’re goin’ good tonight.”
“Yeah,” said Louie:
“Yuh wanta throw in yer right.
Hook wid dat left,
And throw in duh right, too.
Play for his head,
Dat’s what you wanta do.”

“Yeah,’ said Max:
“Dat left hook worries him,
Play for his face,
An’ let duh body be.”

Pansy nodded, silent.
He didn’t feel right.
There was something he didn’t like
About this fight.
He stared at gray,
And Gray stared back at him:
Eyes likes slits,
Face expressionless,

The crowd chattered:
“. . . Dat Pansy’s good!”
‘Ah, nuts–
Dat left,
A helluva lotta ice dat cuts . . . !”
“Dat Sailor ain’t much . . .”
“Duh Sailor ain’t goin’ yet . . .”
“You wait–!”
“Ah, nuts . . .”
“Yeah? Whaddayuh wanta bet . . . ?”

One gallery fan
Was a grubby, oldish man:
A small man,
Seedy looking, puffy cheeked.
His eyes watered.
His nose was red,
And it leaked.
His collar was held in the front
By a safety pin.
He seemed alone,
And his breath reeked of gin.

He turned to the stranger beside him.
He borrowed a light.
“Some fight,” he said to the stranger:
“Yessir–some fight.”
The stranger said nothing:
He eyed the borrower askance,
But the small man wanted to talk,
And he took a chance.

“Yessir–” he said:
“You see that fighter down there?
That’s Pansy Jones!
He paused with a speechless air,
As though he expected the stranger
To say Hell No!
Pansy Jones–?
You’re kidding!
It Can’t Be So . . . !

The stranger said nothing.
His manner was cold, at best.
He eyed the seedy man
As one eyes a pest.

“Yessir–” the pest went on:
“Yessir–I know!
That boy was good as hell
Ten years ago.
Last time I saw him fight was–
Let . . . me . . . see . . .
Back in Fifteen!–

He knocked out Billy McGee.
Knocked him out in the fifth:
A left to the jaw.
A prettier fighter you never saw.
Knocked him cold–
And didn’t even take a scratch.
Yessir . . .”
He puffed, frowning:
“. . . You got a match–?”

The stranger passed the box
Back over his shoulder.
His jaws were set,
And his ears had begun to smoulder.

The stump was re-lit.
It wobbled.
Some sparks fell.
The small man brushed them off:
“Yessir . . .”

The bell–!


“Come on, now, Sailor–!”
“Come on!”
“Let’s go!”
“Go on there, black-boy–
Knock him fer a row . . . !”

The voices snapped out

Faces grew hard,
Blank with suspense.
Butts smouldered forgotten
In half-raised hands:
The smoke leaked from them
In thin, grey strands.

The figures in the ring
Looked hard,
Glazed by the savage glare of light.

They circled . . .
Pansy broke the ice.
His left snapped up

Gray rushed.

Pansy danced away.

“Ah – gowan!
Get to him, gray . . . !”
“Jesus Christ!–
Whadda yuh say!”

“Watch dat left!
Come on, let’s go!”
“Block dat left!”
“Jesus you’re slow!”
“What dud hell are you waitin’ for . . . ?”

Gray’s eyes glittered.
He was getting sore.
His fists circled.
He crouched to attack.
Pansy hooked:
Gray’s head jerked back.
And just as it jerked,
Pansy let fly
With a hard straight right
To the Sailor’s eye.

The crowd yelled.
Gray crouched,
Pansy danced back out of range,

“Go on, Pansy!
You’ve got ‘in now!”
“Dat right nailed ‘im!”
“Christ what a slough!”

“Go on, black-boy–
Throw in dat right!”
“Duh Sailor’s yelluh!”
“Duh Gob can’t fight.”

The Sailor snarled.
Splotched of red
Showed on his face.
He swayed his head.
He began to edge forward,
His fists circled,
And he crouched low.

Pansy backed off
Dancing from side to side.
Watch it, now . . . !
His nerves grew taut.
He didn’t want to get caught.

His eyes were glued
On that head of Gray,
Swaying there
Four feet away;
Glued on those shoulders,
Those circling fists
Close together
On heavy wrists . . .

Pansy paused.
His left smacked–
Smacked again.
Off he backed.
Gray crouched lower,
Shaking his head.
His right ear
Turned slowly red.

The crowd grew restless:

“Gowan an’ fight!”
“Gowan, sock ‘im!–
Don’t take all night!”

“Go on, for Christ’s sake–
Use dat glove!
What duh hell are yuh scared of–?”

“What game is dat yer playin’–
Red Rover . . . ?”
“Why don’t youse lay down
An talk it over . . . !”

Slap –
Went Pansy’s left.
He backed away,

Gray’s chest swelled.
His shoulders humped.
His head stopped swaying.
In he jumped.

A yell from the crowd:
"Dere he goes . . . !”

There came the dull
Thump of blows.

Pansy chopped–
Gray’s head slid under his wrist.

Pansy swung left.
Before he could block,
Something jolted his ribs
Like a rock.
His insides thumped
Like a drum.
His ribs grew suddenly numb.
A glove shot up
And grazed his ear.
He shot in his right,
And sprang out

“Gowan, Sailor . . . !”
“Gowan, Gray . . . !”
“Don’t let him get away–!”

Gray swerved quickly,

The bell gave a sudden clang.


Pansy walked to his corner,
Sat down on the stool.
They gave him the bottle:
The water tasted cool.
He was sweating now.
He could feel his heart pump;
And his head throbbed,
Echoed that steady thump.

They squeezed the sponge on his head:
It was cool and wet:
It trickled down,
Turned warm,
And mixed with the sweat.

Pansy leaned back.
He stretched his lets out wide.

He breathed in deep–

He winced:
It hurt his side.
That last one he stopped
Had hurt him pretty bad.
Christ on a raft!–
What a sock that Sailor had!
He was fast, too;
Faster than you’d have thought.
Just a little bit faster–
And he’d have got caught.

Max cleared his throat.
He said “You’re goin’ great.
Dat Sailor ain’t much–
He swings like a rusty gate.”

“Yeah,” said Louie:
‘Yeah–you’re doin’ good.
Dat right got ‘im
Just like I said it would.
Keep throwin’ that right,
An’ mix in an uppercut . . .”

Pansy nodded,
His eyes were shut.

In the opposite corner,
A crisis came up.
Gray sat in his corner,
Sore as a pup.
“Yeah–” he sneered,
“ ‘Don’t do ‘im no dirt!’
Dat’s fine for Tony–
He don’t get hurt!
‘Don’t do him no dirt!’ –
To hell wit’ dat!
Dis round
I knock dat bastard flat!
No more o’ dis foolin around–
I’m through!
An’ if Tony don’t like it–
He knows what to do!”

“Aw–” said Sam,
“Don’t get so sore!
What duh hell are yuh sore for?
You done like Diamond told yuh to–
You laid off two rounds–
An’ now yer through!
Pansy ain’t hurtcha–
He knows what’s what.
He’ll take what he gets–
An’ keep his trap shut.
You played it good,
Just like you were told.
Now be yerself–
An’ knock ‘im cold . . . !

“Ah– snarled Gray,
“You shut yer mout’ . . . !”

The bell clanged.
He rose,
Rushed out.


The crowd roared.

“Go get ‘im, Gray!”
“Tear intuh ‘im, Sailor–
Dat’s duh way!”
“Now yer talkin’ . . . !”

The roar died.
Pansy swung right.
He danced aside.
His left hooked up:
Gray shook his head:
His upper lip was smeared with red.

“Gowan, Sailor!”
“Gowan dere, Gray!”
‘Don’t let ‘im get away–”

The crowd sat hushed.

The Sailor rushed.
Again the roar rose.
The roar sank.
Pansy hooked left.
He dodged off
On his toes.

“Ah, for Christ’s sake–
Come on, Gray!
Why d’yuh let ‘im
Fool yuh dat way–
Come on – whadda yuh say . . . !”

Blood ran down the Sailor’s chin.
His teeth gleamed.
He sprang in.

He socked.
Pansy blocked.
Ropes on his left–
He swung to the right,
Dodging away,

Gray crouched down,
Swaying his head.
His eyes flared:
Come on!” he said:
Come on, you dirty bastard
None o’ yer god-damned monkey tricks!”

Pansy grinned,
He backed away on this toes,
His heart was pounding.
His breath came fast.
The pace was too hot.
He couldn’t last.
He knew it–
But he was game.
He’d take whatever came.
This Gray guy thought he could knock him out . . .
He'd give Gray something
To think about–!

He sprang.
Before the Sailor could cover,
His left hooked up
And his right flashed over.

Back he jumped–
But his foot slipped.
He went off balance,
And in Gray ripped.
Pansy covered.
He was in for it now.
He staggered back onto balance somehow.
He twisted,
Chopped at Gray’s head.
He felt Gray’s fists
Thump in like lead.
Swiftly they thumped ,
And his body shook,
Jarred by the impact of every hook.

A glove flashed up–
Missed his jaw by an inch.
Swiftly he crouched,
Slid forward to clinch.

He trapped Gray’s left . . .
Suddenly he felt
A swift sharp pain below the belt.
He grunted,
But he hung on tight,
Trying to tie up the Sailors right.
Watch dose low ones!” Pansy said.

“A-ah–!” snarled Gray,
“Go soak yer head!”

The Sailor’s right arm rose
Down into Pansy’s kidney’s it hooked.
Up it came.
Down it fell,
And it hurt like hell.

Pansy’s head lay out of harm.
His ear pressed Gray’s
Left upper arm.
He stared unseeing at the canvas floor.
He heard the crowd roar.
Somewhere above,
Out of sight,
His left arm wrestled
With the Sailor’s right.

He had it now . . .
He had it tied . . . !

They wheeled,
Swaying from side to side.
Gray tugged and shoved.
God, he was strong!
He wasn’t going to stay
Tied up long . . . !

The referee’s hand
Smacked Pansy’s back.

They broke.

Gray crouched for another attack.

Pansy fell back
In a weary retreat.
No dancing now–
He stood flat on his feet.
That rush had got him.
His lungs felt hot.
His heart was jerking,
And his guts were shot.

“Gowan, Sailor!”
“You got ‘im, Gray!”
“Tear intuh ‘im, Sailor!”
“Dat’s duh way!”
Gowan, Sailor–!”
“Knock ‘im out . . . !

The voices blurred
In a steady shout.
The sweat poured down
Into Pansy’s eyes.
He blinked.
Gray rushed.
He sprang sidewise.
The Sailor went by.

Like a ten-ton truck,
And Pansy hooked one in his side
For luck.

Back Pansy shuffled.
The Sailor stopped.
He wheeled,
His heart dropped.

Gray crouched,
His glove rose:
He passed it swiftly
Under his nose.
Blood was smeared across one cheek.
Blood on his chin
Made a crooked streak.
The back of his glove
Was smudged with red.
He sniffed again,
Shaking his head.
He glared at Pansy.
What in Christ’s name
Was this bastard trying–?
What was the game?
Sonofa bitch!
Too god-damned gay!
How the hell did he get that way!

The roar dwindled.
The roar died.
Deep groans came from every side.

“A-a-ah, Sailor . . . !”
“Christ on a log!–
Go after ‘im, Sailor!
Snap outa yer fog . . . !”

“Gowan, Sailor–
Make it quick . . . !”
“Duh Sailor can’t fight–
He’s seasick . . . !”

“Gowan, stop wearin’ out
Dat ring . . . !
“Charge dem rent . . . !”
“Can duh Sailor sing–?

“Well–” a sudden, shrill voice said:
“Guess I’ll go home
An’ go tuh bed . . . !”

Heavy laughter.
You could see Gray set his jaws.
He started for Pansy,
Wary, intent,
Ready to jump
The way Pansy went.
His teeth were showing.
His eyes were half shut,
He’d catch that bastard
And break his gut . . . !

The crowd watched,
They spat.
They snorted.
They sat back sneering.

Gray stopped.
He feinted–
Then in he shot.
But Pansy stood there,
Rooted to the spot.

Pansy was watching,
He saw the rush come–
But his legs didn’t move.
His brain seemed numb.
For just a second
He stood surprised,
And paralyzed.

Then all of a sudden he clicked–
Too late!
The Sailor hit him
Like a ton of freight.

Pansy crumpled.
He staggered back
Under that swift
Savage attack.
His head dropped.
His guts went in.
He bent at the middle
Like a twisted pin.

Gray’s fist drove up
Like a battering-ram
Pansy saw double.
His head swam.
He sagged at the knees.
His arms fell.

The crowd stood up,
Roared . . .

The bell!


Pansy slouched to his corner,
His eyes shut.
His head dropped.
Everything whirled.
He felt sick.
He opened his eyes again

Hard bright
Savage light.
The ring tilted.
He held on tight.
His ears buzzed.
His head rumbled.
Far away,
Voices mumbled.

A blurred hand with a bottle
The bottle came to rest
With its top under his nose.
His nose burned with a sharp smell.
He sniffed,
It smelled like hell.

“Nix . . . !” he mumbled.
He squirmed,
He tried
To jerk his head aside.

The buzz in his ears
The ring stood level.
His head cleared.
“Awright . . .” he muttered:
“Take dat away . . . !”

“Okay–” said Louie’s voice:
“Okay . . . !”

Sponge on his head . . .
The water trickled
Down the back of his neck
And tickled.

Sponge on his heart,
Sweet . . .
His heart slowed
Its furious beat.

The numbness was going.
His body ached,
Throbbed with pain.
His throat was baked.

“Drink,” he muttered.

The bottle tipped.
He sucked at the water,
He swallowed a mouthful,
Smacked his lips:
It seemed to spread
To his finger tips.
God Almighty, it felt swell!
He sighed,
Leaned back.
His eyelids fell.
Max pulled the top of his trunks away,
Held them,
Giving his guts free play.
Louie slipped the sponge down where
The foul had struck
And held it there.

“Okay–?” Louie said.
Pansy nodded his head.

He felt lousy.
He felt drowsy.
His head rolled.
He could hardly keep
Himself from falling asleep.

Louie and Max exchanged a look.
They were pessimistic.
Their heads shook.
“Not so good . . . !” that look implied.
They stared at Pansy

The crowd threw out a deep-toned sound
Like water rushing underground.
The smoke rose,
Faces bobbed,
Butts glowed.
Matches flared:
The eyes above them

Pansy’s chest
Lifted and fell.
He lay back waiting,
Dreading the bell.
The rest wasn’t long enough.
He didn’t feel strong enough
To last much longer.
He was tired as hell.

His arms were heavy,
His shoulders felt sore.
He let his arms dangle.
His gloves brushed the floor.
The hands in the gloves
Felt hot,
The leather felt slippery,

“Well–” said Max,
“You’re goin’ good!”
He glanced at Louie.
They understood.

‘Yeah,” said Louie,
“You’re goin’ swell!
Keep throwin’ dat right,
An’ don’t . . .”

The bell!


Max and Louie got down off the ring.
They parked the stuff
They were carrying.
They sat down,
Stared at the ring overhead.

You got a butt–?” Max said.

Louie handed over his pack.
Max took one,
And handed them back.
He fumbled for a match
Below his sweater.
He straightened a little,
To see better.

“Pansy’s cooked,” said Louie.
He frowned:
“Dat Sailor’ll finish ‘im up
Dis round . . .”

Max blew a thin
Blue stream of smoke:
“Yeah,” he said,
“The old boy’s broke.
He can’t take
What duh Sailor gave ‘im.
Nothin’ but a lucky punch
Can save ‘im . . .”

“Yeah,” said Louie,
“Dat’s my hunch.
His only chance is a lucky punch.”

“Yeah–he’s just too god-damn old . . .”

They nodded.
Their faces were hard,

A roar rose:
“Dere he goes–!”

The roar sank.
They sat hushed.
You could hear Gray’s feet
Thud as he rushed.

“Jeez–!” said Max:
“Whadda yuh know!
Lookit dat Pansy!
Lookit ‘im go–!”

Pansy’s legs spread wide.
He snapped to one side.

The Sailor missed.
Before he could stop,
Pansy whirled,
Spun like a top.
His shoulders humped
And in he jumped
Hitting like hell
With his left and right.

The crowd yelled at the sight.
“Knock ‘im out–!”
“Knock ‘im out–!”

The air shook
With that savage shout.
Mouths snarled.
Eyes blazed:
They popped from flaming faces,

Gray staggered.
The crowd rose with a sharp yell.

In between sprang the referee.
Pansy fell back.
Gray crouched on one knee.

Gray jumped up.
His face was red.
He crouched to rush,
Swaying his head.
If Pansy had hurt him
You’d never know it;
Nothing about him
Seemed to show it.

Louie and Max exchanged a glance.

“Well–” said Max,
“Dere goes his chance.”

They shrugged a little.
They sat back.
Louie shook out
A butt from his pack.

“Yeah,” said Louie,
“Dat’s it.
He’s through . . .”
He struck a match
On the sole of his shoe:
“He’s tired how–
Too tired to run.
If duh Sailor rushes ‘im now–
He’s done.”

Pansy knew
What was coming, too.
He stood there panting
With legs wide-spread,
Staring at the top
Of the Sailor’s head.
Watch it now . . . !
Get ready to block–
Gray rushed.
The crowd saw Pansy rock,
Stagger back from the shock.

The crowd roared,
Yelped with delight
As Gray hooked home
His left and right.

A pimply youth
With greasy hair
And no chin
Sprang from his chair.
His face was convulsed.
His eyes popped out.
His voice was a raucous shout:
“Break duh nigger’s face!–
Break it!
Sock ‘im Sailor–
He can’t take it–!”

Behind the pimply youth there st
A heavy man
In a derby hat.
His nose was broken.
One eye was black.
He sneered a the youth’s back.

He folded his arms,
He spoke to the youth,
And his voice was acid:
“Ah, shut yer trap
Fer Christ’s sake–
He’s takin’ more
Dan you’ll ever take . . . !”

The youth jerked around
To see who had spoken.
He saw.
His spirit seemed suddenly broken.

The derbied one spoke
With a menacing frown:
Before I knock you down!
Yuh loud-mouthed bastard,
Yuh make me sick!”

The youth collapsed;
He sat down quick.

The crowd was yelping
“Sock ‘im, Gray!”
“Finish ‘im, Sailor!”
“Dat’s duh way . . . !”

Back Pansy went.
You could see him flinch.
He twisted,
Trying to clinch.

Louie and Max’s eyes met.
Each of them ground out his cigarette.
One reached for the pail,
The other for the towel . . .

Max whistled suddenly:
“Lookatat foul!
Lookatat, Louie–
Two in a row!
Duh Sailor’s landin’ ‘em low . . . !”

Pansy spoke to the referee.
In he hopped.
The roar stopped.
The crowd craned necks to see.

The referee elbowed Gray aside:
“Well–?” he snapped,

Pansy tapped with his glove
To show
Where the Sailor’s blows
Had struck in low.

“Two . . .” said Pansy.
The Sailor scowled.
“Ah, nuts!” he snarled,
“The hell I fouled–!”

“A-ah . . . !” yelled a voice,
“Gowan an’ fight!”
“Don’t stand dere
Talkin’ all night!”

The crowd’s voice
Had an angry sound.
They booed.
Their feet began to pound.

The referee turned to Gray,
‘Watch dat foulin’, Gray–
Yuh hear?”

The referee hopped back
Out of the way.
“Awright–!” he snapped,
“Whadda yuh say!”

Gray’s head began to sway.
He crouched,
His right went wide.
They clinched.
He hammered at Pansy’s side.

“Son-of-a-bitch–!” the Sailor growled.
He hammered as he spoke:
“–Say I fouled–!”
You double-crossin’ bastard, you!
I’ll get you for day
When dis bout is t’rough!
Just you wait
Till after dis fight–
You’ll get what’s comin’ to you
All right –!”

He snarled.
He wrenched his lift arm clear.
The heel of his glove
Ripped Pansy’s ear.
“Bastard–!” muttered Gray.
He slung Pansy away.

Pansy staggered back
For a second or two
He felt dazed.
What the hell was this all about?
He had no time
To figure it out . . .

“Double-crossing son-of-a-bitch”–?

Pansy’s mouth began to twitch.
His eyes narrowed,

The Sailor stiffened.
His chest swelled.

“Dere he goes–!”
The crowd yelled.

Pansy covered.
He tried to duck,
But Gray nailed him.
He was out of luck.
The air seemed suddenly
Blurred with fists
Flashing at him
On dim white wrists.
He felt them strike.
He seemed to grow numb.
To hell with those fists–
Let them come . . .

The blows seemed far away
And dull.
An engine was whirring
Inside his skull.

The ring whirled.
His legs felt light.
Everything seemed to grow
Blurred and bright.

He lost his balance.
He hung in space.
The floor sprang up
And hit him in the face.

He stared at the floor
His brains were paralyzed.

He shook his head.
A voice said “Four . . .”

His brain clicked.
He was on the floor.

He had to get up
And do it quick!

He got on one knee.
He felt sick.

He had to get up!

His upper teeth
Gnawed at the lower lip beneath.

“Five . . . !” said the voice
Far away.
He had to get up
And get this Gray . . . !”

Blood on the floor:
A scarlet smear,
Savage pain in his right ear.

He crouched,
Looked up:
There stood Gray
Ten feet away.

Gray’s face swam
In a haze of red.
Pansy snarled.
He shook his head.
A shiver ran through him
Like a hot chill.
His face twitched.
He wanted to kill.

“Six . . . !” said the voice.
His ears rang.
Something inside him snapped.
He sprang.

No boxing now–
To hell with that!

He leapt in striking
Like a savage cat.

He felt Gray’s fists
Thud into him.
Gray’s face faded.
The ring grew dim.

Blindly he struck,
Trusting to luck.

Suddenly his right
Struck something hard.
Pain shot through his hand.
His wrist was jarred.

He struck again–
Hit air.
He stumbled into the ropes,
Clung there.

Now let it come!
To hell with it all.
To hell with the works,
He wanted to bawl.
No air in his lungs.
He felt drowned.
His ears were filled
With a roaring sound.
His heart pumped,
His knees sagged.
He slumped.
His eyes shut.
His head sank low . . .

A voice was counting,
Far off,
“Two–!” said the voice:

He opened his eyes,
Stared at the floor.
They stung,
Parched with heat.
The floor swayed at his feet.
“Five–!” said the voice:

His eyes were playing him tricks!
On the floor of the ring
A figure lay,
Face down,
It looked like Gray!

He clung to the ropes.
He waited,

The counting stopped.
For half a second,
A silence dropped.

“–and Out!” snapped a voice
In that hushed pause.

The crowd rose,
Roaring applause.
Seconds seemed to spring
From nowhere into the ring.

Pansy clung to the ropes
His arm was seized at the wrist–
The crowd clapped,
His arm dropped.
The bell hammered.

“Come on–” said Max
Into Pansy’s ear;
“Let’s get th’ hell away from here . . . !



The dressing room was a hot-box.
Pansy sat there
Holding his socks.
The air was stagnant,
The reek of liniment
Made him sick.
He sat there bent,

The room was deserted looking,
Only just the three of them there.
Fargo and gang
Were up at his bout.
Everyone else had gotten out.

Max and Louie were through.
They had done all they could do.
They’d rubbed him down
Long and good.
They’d patched his ear
As wells as they could.
He still felt lousy–
They didn’t doubt it–
But what the hell
Could they do about it?
With a beating like he had got,
A cast-iron set of guts would be shot!

They stood around
For a minute or so,
Ready to go.

Max looked at his watch.
He rubbed his chin.
“Well–” he began . . .

Diamond rushed in.


His grin was gone.
His face was white.
The muscles in his jaws
Stood rigid,

He stared at Pansy
With a glittering look.
He pointed at him,
And his hand shook.

“You crooked son-of-a-bitch –” he said.
His voice was dead,
Like lead.

He paused,
His mouth worked.
He was dumb.

Pansy straightened,
Stiffened as he sat:
“What th’ hell yo’ mean by that?”

The words clicked out
Like flint.
His eyes began to glint.

Diamond grinned
As a skull grins:
The grin seemed fastened there
By pins.
“None o’ dat stuff–
You know what I mean!
Don’t pull dat stuff.
I ain’t so green.
I know when I’m double-crossed,
You don’t get away
Wit’ dat stuff wit’ me!”

A pause.
Then Pansy shook his head.

“Ah don’ know what yo’ mean,” he said.

“Nah!” sneered Diamond.
“You don’t know!”
Ain’t you the innocent bastard, though!
Dis wasn’t duh Sailor’s fight–
Oh, no!
Nobody ever told you so!
Not at all!
You never got
Yer twenty bucks!–
Of course not!?

Pansy couldn’t grasp what he meant.
This stuff was over his head
Like a tent.

Twenty bucks–?
No such luck!
He hadn’t gotten
A god-damned buck.
Pansy’s voice was low.
The words came careful,
“Mistuh Diamond,
You done got mixed.
Ah didn’t know
Dis fight was fixed.
Dat twenty bucks
Must got mislaid!
What for you say
Ah done got paid–?”

“‘Cause Stone and MacPhail said so–
Dat’s why!”

Pansy got sore.
“Dat’s a god-damned lie!
Ah nevah got nothin’.
An’ dat’s flat!
On dat!”

“What duh hell good
Is yer lousy word–
Yuh god-damned nigger jail-bird!”

Pansy jumped up,
Stepped forward a pace:
“Git outa heah–
Or I’ll break yo’ face!”
His voice had an ugly ring.
His fists rose,

Diamond’s swift
Vicious reply
Was to draw back a fist
And let it fly.
His ring cut Pansy
Below the eye.

Pansy let rip
With a right from the hip.
The blow smashed square
On Diamond’s face.
He took a fast
Short trip through face.
He hit the floor flat.
Up he bounced
Like a cat.

An angry red splotch marked the place
Where Pansy’s fist
Had struck his face.
His hands rose,
Covered the spot.
He turned,
Made for the door like a shot.
His shoulder hit
The side of the door.
He staggered back,

He stopped,
Whirled about.
He thrust a finger out:
“I’ll get you fer dis–!
Just wait–
Dat’s all . . . !”

He turned.
He dashed out into the hall.


Louie whistled.
He waggled his jaw:
Did you see what I just saw . . . ?”

But Max frowned.
He shook his head:
“Pansy, you better look out–” he said.
“Look out fer Diamond
When he’s mad like dat.
He’s crazy,
Crazy as a bat!”

“Dat’s right, Max–”
Louie agreed:
“Diamond fights dirty–
I know dat breed!
Watch out fer Tony
After dat crack–
He’s likely to stick
A knife in yer back.”

“Yeah?” said Pansy.
His face was grim”
“Let ‘im try–
Ah ain’t scared uh him!”

“Well–” said Max,
“It’s you – not me.
But watch yer step.
I’m tellin’ yuh, see!”

Pansy seemed to be unimpressed.
He pulled out his clothes.
He began to get dressed.

They watched him a minute,
Their faces grew hard
As they stood there thinking.

Then Max shrugged.
He looked away:
“Hey, Louie–
What does yer watch say?”

Louie looked:
“I got eighteen past.”
Max pulled out his:
“You must be fast . . .
My watch says only
Ten after ten.”

“Well, why duh hell
Didja ask me, then?”

“Let’s beat it, Louie –
Whadda yuh say?”

Let’s make a getaway.
It’s hot as hell down here.
Let’s go up to Herman’s
An’ get a beer.”

“Okay wit’ me–
I got a thirst.
Beer an’ a sandwich–
Liverwurst . . .”

They turned to Pansy:

“So long, kid–
Yuh done great.”
“I’ll say yuh did . . .”
“Yuh better go home
An’ go to bed . . .”

Pansy grinned,
Nodding his head:
“So long–” he said,
“See yuh some more . . .”

They turned.
He watched them stroll through the door.


They vanished.
Pansy sat alone.
A silence dropped
Like the silence of stone.
The echo of a roar
The silence rushed back
From every side,

Pansy pulled on a shoe.
He tied
It. Stared at the shoe

A window rattled.
He jumped at the sound.
He raised his head.
He peered around . . .

White walls ,
Closed windows,

Out on the sill,
A dim scrap
Of dirty paper began to flap.

Again the roar echoed,
The silence returned,

He stared at the door.
It was dark out there.
The shadows baffled
His steady stare.

He cocked his head,
The whites of his eyes


He rose.
His shadow sprang tall,
Stood huge before him
Against the wall.
A board creaked in the floor.
He started back,

He grinned to himself.
The grin was sickly.
He put on the rest of his clothes,
He wrapped his togs.
He buttoned his coat.
He tightened the muffler
Around his throat.
He put on his cap
And pulled it low.
He picked up his parcel,
And started to go.

At the door,
He stopped dead.
He stuck out his head.

A roar from upstairs.
It echoed,

He stiffened.
He stepped outside.


He walked swiftly.
The dark hall
Echoed every footfall.

He reached a red light
Caged in wire
Above red buckets labeled “Fire.”
He stopped.
He looked back.
The hall behind
Lay black.
His teeth chattered
With a chill.
He listened . . .
The hall was still.

He started again.
The floor creaked.
Rats raced through the walls,
They rattled around
In the loose plaster.
He licked his lips.
He walked faster.

He reached the stairs:
Up he went
Two at a time,

He got to the door;
He stopped.
His hand rose,

He stood a moment
As if in doubt,
Then swung the door open
And stepped out.


The street was cold.
Ghostly, lit by a blurred lamp.

Around the lamp-post
Stood a dim
Group of figures,

Pansy’s heart jumped.
The door behind him thumped.
He spotted Diamond.
He spotted Gray.
He turned quickly,
Started away.

“Dere he goes!” a voice said:
“Let’s get duh bastard.
Come ahead . . . !”

Pansy pretended he hadn’t heard.
He kept on going
Without a word.

The feet behind him
Quickened their stride.
Two figures ranged
What duh hell is your rush . . . ?”

They started to jostle,

“Cut it out . . .” Pansy mumbled.
A foot tripped him.
He staggered,
He lurched into someone.

A voice swore.
Said “What duh hell
Are you pushin’ me for–!

“Break his face!” another said.

A fist thudded against his head.

His arms rose on guard.
He whirled.
He stuck out hard.

“Cheese it–!” snapped someone:
“Cheese it–duh cop!”

They paused.
They let their fists drop.
The cop came up,
“What duh hell
Goes on, here . . . ?”

No one answered.
The cop scowled.
“Break dis up, youse guys!” he growled.
“Move on, see?–
An’ make it quick!”

His chest swelled.
He twirled his stick.

Pansy didn’t trust the Law.
Cops shot at everything they saw.
He walked away.
He was scared to run–
He thought the cop
Might pull his gun.

He was getting close
To a cross street.
The gang was behind him–
He heard their feet.
He was all right
While the cop was in sight,
But once he turned that corner–
Good night!
He broke out in a cold sweat.
That bunch would get him yet!

He reached the corner.
A block to the right
He saw one blue
One yellow light:
The Subway!

Could he make it?
A chance:
He’d have to take it.

Empty street . . .
Ten to one . . .
A panic hit him.
He started to run.

Get ‘ im!" he heard a voice yell:
“Get dat nigger–!”

He ran like hell.


Steep stairs.
White tiles.
Bare lights.

Express platform:
Cold air,
Vaulted ceiling.
Dismal light.
Square pillars,
Black and white.

A few frozen figures tramped
Up and down,
Cold draughts from ventilators
Sighed around the restless waiters.
Dirty paper flapped.
The dust
Streamed, swirled at every gust.

Empty tracks.
No sound.
A Klaxon whooped
Its high snarling note
Was muffled,


A turnstile clattered.
Voices yelled.
Feet pattered.

Down the stairs Pansy came,
Face convulsed,
Eyes aflame.
He rushed down,
Wheeled about
To the edge of the platform
And leaned out.

The tunnel was black,
Pansy gulped.
His heart sank.

He stared.
Far down along the track
Two lights appeared against the black.
He listened.
He heard a faint humming.
His heart jumped–
An Express was coming!

The lights seemed to grow clearer,
One light green,
One light red . . .

Feet on the stairs.
He turned his head.
There they came–!

His throat grew tight.
His heart raced with fright.

They crowded towards him.
“Well–!” sneered Gray:
“Think yuh were gonna get away . . . ?”

Pansy’s face grew suddenly grim.
His jaws set.
It was them or him.

They saw his hand slip
To the pocket over his hip.
His fist rose,
A razor glittered
Across its back.
“Come on–!” he said.

They eyed the blade.
They shrank back,

The razor glittered,
The razor gleamed.
Far down the tracks
A whistle screamed,
The air split with its force.

Low thunder.
The rails shivered.
The air trembled.
The platform quivered.

Diamond gave his pants a hitch:
“Let’s get duh nigger son-of-a-bitch . . . !”

“Sure!: said the Sailor,
“come on–let’s go!
You hit ‘im high–
I’ll hit ‘im low . . .”

They crouched,

The razor flashed,
Slashed at Diamond’s face,
Diamond yelped.
A thin red streak
Rapidly widened across his cheek.
He clapped his hands to his face.
He staggered back a pace.

Gray and Pansy locked.
They swung,

“Look out fer d’edge–!
Look out dere, Gray . . . !”

The Sailor suddenly wrenched away.

Pansy spun.
He staggered back.

He tottered on the edge.
He crashed to the track.

The tunnel roared.
The whistle screamed.
Over the tracks
Light streamed.

They turned their heads
So as not to see.

Pansy hitched up
Onto one knee.
Blood on his face,
He crooked one arm
Around his head.

He crouched,
Ready to duck.

The train screeched
And struck.