I hail from Floyd, VA, a rural town off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwestern Virginia, a place to which I return on a regular basis to care for my elderly parents. Most of the time though, now that I have retired from my job as instructor in a writing center at UC Irvine, I write and play the harmonica in Southern California. I am the author of two collections, Buffalo Laughter (Alabaster Leaves, 2014) and Gunpowder Summers (Alabaster Leaves, 2016), and have published poetry and essays in many journals and anthologies.
The man who wrestled barefoot in my day
was Argentina Rocca. A man named for an entire country
—an exotic one—an underdog, without shoes,
kicking ass in the Northern Hemisphere.
So . . . American.
The man who made the maps—Vespucci—
not an Argentine, of course, but still a foreigner.
Italian. I understand we mispronounce his first name.
That it’s really amer-RI-go, with the accent on the ri
and a long e instead of a short i and not aMER-ri-go.
When said that way, as in
“I’m proud to be an amer-REE-can,”
something in me breaks loose, drifts free,
like salsa dance shaking its hips
in a strange barroom.
My Dad and I had fierce combats about the truth
of wrestling for I believed. After that, the loss
of Santa Claus was nothing, the kind of fraud
that one gets over easily as part of normal growing up.
Still, I wanted Rocca to be more than that,
not just a put-up job the big boys let win
occasionally to show that everything’s fair.
Patriotism might be that sort of fraud, one better
outgrown, except it sticks in the throat like a cheer
at a ballgame, surviving all attempts at amputation.
Rocca, subtle one, setting and springing traps—
duck and dodge and leap and slap—Nijinsky
with a sting in the soles of his feet.
I couldn’t see the cage that held us all,
even the bosses, a masked opponent named Jim Crow
ruling the center of the ring.
Every map’s a prison of a kind, with colors for bars.
I’ve learned to ask who owns the maps.
That much at least, no more.
©2016 Richard Nester
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