Poem 8 of 30 - April 26 - Fast, How i Knew
Fast – how I knew
In 1980 I was fast. I knew I was fast because Muhammad Ali told me so. Said he was the Greatest of All Time . I still hear the phrase All Time in Ali’s voice, no matter who says it, with that exaggerated high vastness in his tone, his eyes crinkling up in the corner especially after Zaire, after Manila. Ali said All Time and he looked like a benevolent king – ripe for a dethroning.
But it was 1980 and far as I was concerned that wasn’t the time. He was about to fight Larry Holmes and win again. He was going to pull one more rabbit from one more hat and shut everybody else up again, even as other boys said he was too old and this latest challenger too young and strong. Ali had stayed too long, they said but I knew that there was no such thing as too long for the G.O.A.T. – that Ali had run and chopped wood and prayed five times and was going to be great forever. That day, in the pavilion, right after cricket practice, shirt off and dancing in my socks on the warped wooden locker room floor, I shuffled, showed the boys how Ali would do later that night – all 11 yrs old 90 lbs of me flitting around the room and mimicking the clown like Ali would, like I’d become eventually, and I was fast and pretty, showing off my tiny, quick fists and bobbing my head this way and that and talking, like Ali did. Too fast. Too pretty. Showing off my narrow unimpeachable body in the days before I’d inked a crown into my chest and a red butterfly where my heart should be and a sentence like a guillotine at my throat and blood, and books and memories of broken hearts. I was fast and Ali was and he was going to be heavyweight champion of the world forever, and then all black boys could know they were fast, and could talk slick as hot oil to white men, and the world was going to open up and swallow stupidity that night, I was sure of it, and I was a black boy. My mother told me so, and let me stay up to see Muhammad Ali talk shit to George Foreman 7 years before, when I really thought he was going to lose and watching his body sagging into the ropes, get pounded and pounded before he became some bullet-handed Jimmy Slyde, Honi Coles kinda super-hero and Africa chanted Ali! Ali! Ali! And it was late and I was leaned forward watching a thing I had never seen before and my mother getting up and dancing too, a slow hip-sway scotch on the rocks in one hand not daring to spill shimmy and she sang Oh God Ali, dey cyah touch yuh!
So, see… I knew I was fast. I’d fought myself through the crucible of a Canadian Winter and learned how to pretty up my rage and dress it in something shiny and cocked to one side and my thin, tiny body that healed so miraculously and would wound and scar back to brown again so easy and walked anywhere it felt like past any group of boys, and knew Ali had enough left to beguile this bullet-headed man, Larry Holmes. Everything was going to be gravy, Ali Boomaye! all over again, even though my mom was tense now and my father working. Late. Again. I’d just finished practice and learned a new stroke and made some runs, and took some catches and everything would be right. Ali – king of the world, greatest of all time – he was still young and fast and black. And so were we.
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