A Long Walk with Adrian Matejka & Jack Johnson," an exhibit featuring poems by Matejka concerning the first black heavyweight boxing champion, I asked a few people to drop me a line via email and let me know what poems stood out to them and why. A number of folks emailed me about Matejka's poem "Fisticuffs."
The part about the poem that many of them found intriguing was that Johnson, as channeled by Matejka, has a specific name for his punch, and that name is connected to a former lover.
"I named that back / punch Clara," writes Matejka. "No man has ever / met my Clara & was still standing / to talk about it." He goes on to note that "The woman herself / quit me, carried the gift jewels / & my roll with her." He traveled to St. Louis to retrieve his belongings, but Clara only ended up taking the rest of Johnson's money before leaving him again.
I'll likely compel some of my young respondents to stutter, if not rework their answers, when I go: "hold up, what do you know about naming a punch after your girlfriend or boyfriend who stole your heart and money?" Everyone will start pleading the 5th.
Whatever the case, there's something alluring for readers and listeners about the idea Matejka presents concerning this powerful punch being linked to the hurt Johnson's former woman caused him.
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