The Sorry State of Paper Napkins
The night of the Clay-Liston fight,
I tuned in the Emerson,
my father’s hand too big to fit the dials.
The Louisville Lip, Olympic gold underdog
was our boxer. With every circular dance,
we’d hoot above the radio static. The other featured bout—
Bedtime on a School Night—before the final bell.
The next morning at the kitchen table:
a boxing portrait on a paper napkin.
I dont know when my father learned to sketch
unless I count the Correspondence School for Famous Artists.
Or the plastic mask across our televisions face,
not too opaque to trace figures. The napkin:
one boxer flattened, the raised-up victors arm
who stood on the word CLAY.
After that match any paper napkin was a canvas.
No smudgy ballpoint words. His point-of-view diagram
in circles, arrows, squares.
Borrowing the waitresss pencil, my sister draws on a paper napkin:
a circle around a broken square and labels it ME.
At St. Agnes we still light memorial votives.
Now we order Chablis rounds.
My sister, the same age as Clay when he won.
She wonders how I know that. Undecipherable night
between the windows reverse gold lettering. The paper napkin story
plus how I tossed Dads canvas squarely over breakfast remains,
how blame fits a ring of coffee grinds. Cigarette-smoke halos.
My sisters hand shields her napkin portrait.
I wonder if forgiveness follows rules
like boxing matches: weight and weigh-in, phantom punches,