portion of the artwork for Ken Poyner's poetry

Fighting Words
Ken Poyner

We let the fighting words go at it.
Tooth and nail.
Cats and dogs.
We stood around them in a circle,
Our pointed shoes the bounds
Of their pugilism ring.
No holds barred.
The fighting words went
For the eyes, the groin,
Found anchor in each other’s
Hair. The dust swirled about both
Like a shield. This could end
Only in deafness and illiteracy.
God help us, we started taking
Bets, and amongst ourselves—even as
The fighting words slugged it out—
Critiqued the match, identified
To our own understanding
Each word’s strengths and weaknesses,
Each word’s potential grammatical gait.
Some kid started to yell blind
Encouragement to a word he had
Placed a mere twenty-dollar bet on
And that was that. Passion
And money don’t mix outside
Of a cathouse, and in a minute
We were poking each other, the ring
Was coming to pieces; then, someone
Threw the first good punch
And it all came down, it all
Came down, and we were in one slip
A riot: bloodied faces and cracked
Shins and the fighting words themselves
Hotly forgotten: the whole mass of us
Having taken sides and cash stakes and everyone
About to get a fistful of satisfaction.

The fighting words, I understand, arm
In arm and without much notice
Made it out, and two hours later were heard
At an establishment in Ephrata, popping back cold ones—
As though they were the very description
Of uneventful Saturday nights, language atilt at the bar:
The last words of a gentleman at rest,
Or a lady’s courteous, yet willful and coy, denial.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 55 | Spring/Summer 2020