Let Me Tell You About All the Men I Beat Up

"Ornament Joy" and "Hook," two poems by Justine Chan

Let Me Tell You About All the Men I Beat Up


I was a boxer before he met me / blood soppy / after a match on the curb, before he carried me /  home / in a cardboard box, my knees on the ridge & wet feet dangling out. I was a boxer but he  lifted me, defeated, through the dark. 

He bandaged my knuckles, kissed them, but could not still the shaking & I would not tell him of  the teeth, the crunched nose, the shattered temples written into my skin a long time ago. A  different time. I had loved the moles on his cheeks, the crooks of his elbows / but only when I  towered over him / the first time. He was just some kid—we both were—crumpled, bent at  strange angles—with the air / twitch / scent of animals held cold / playing or fighting. 

Now the linen, so white & clean made me happy. So / instead, I told him how before I was a  boxer, I used to punch holes in the garage walls in case they buried me, like my little brother, in  a coffin box unopen to the sky, alive. The dirt in my mouth & eyes. Yes, yes / if I died, my mother  would dress me in a wine colored pressed velvet dress with white kid gloves & her yellow pearl  necklace / but she would not recognize me if I stumbled back swinging / dress torn, knees  battered, knuckles white / wild haired / Alive. The first time. My hands would never fit the  leather & words never fit my mouth. 

So I told him these things—how foxes caught in traps have been known to gnaw off their own  paws to escape, how I’ve dreamt of hopping boxcars & boxes, sealed up evergreen forests in  cardboard boxes / the smell at dusk of trees, the running, the dust in garage windows, the  streamed light—so the wild loneliness would not kill me / the heavy gesture. 

The whole time he says nothing / listens / his gaze sweet. He must know / has no reasons / no  wilted dandelions clamped too tight in his fist / and I have no reason—no, I can’t ask the things  he dreams of, if he knows my name, if he recognizes me from somewhere, if he even knows his  own name, or if this / this is his custom—to comb through slush & ticket stubs & empty soda cans / for all kinds of strangers / or me, just me. I don’t know. 

I want to tell him about my little brother. I want to tell him about the men I beat up. I want to  tell him about the men I loved. 

He must know / they were never gentle / like this, like him / tucking the covers around my jaw.  As if wary of bruises / the cold, snapped traps / staying close, unafraid. But I—no—know no  reason no life animal joy—only boxes—his wrists—the pulse—I am a boxer & I pounce. Pin  him to the ground. Run my tongue along the shell of his ear to hear the sound / escape from his  throat / of him / defeated, comforted.

Ornament Joy

Only the whale is meant to see the whale 
etched into the wood of the bow—for you— 

before the sharp harpoon plunges, thrown so, 
over the icy cold waves and sea ice 

into the whale, a beast of rib bones, blood, 
meat, and oil—for you—and it has no 

choice in the matter of this gift, 
or how its mouth will be sewn shut
to bloat to shore with the boats, 
or in the great division once 

on land, my Captain, in all this ornament 
joy, and I worry—for you—with the dogs’ 

jaws around smaller throats, and I etch  
its ancient mammoth heart into my own 

heart, eating myself from the lungs, still 
in this hunt—for you—if it is enough.

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