“Sonny’s Song” by Glenn Morazzini

Glenn Morazzini


“Someday, they’re gonna write a blues
song just for fighters,” he once said.
“I’ll be for slow guitar, soft trumpet,
and a bell.”
—Sonny Liston, in
King of the World by David Remnick

As a kid I carried fields on my back,
sharecropper’s black cotton, when daddy
wasn’t hoeing welts on it with a strap.
Ran away, at 13, traced mama’s
roadless map of hope, to St. Louis,
an assembly line, shoe factory,
her heart, a piece of stitched leather.
slow guitar, soft trumpet, and a bell

On the streets I sold ice. I sold coal.
Slaughtered chickens under a blood-leaking
roof. But hunger is a hard habit to kick,
so I packed 200 pounds, 6 feet,
into fists and cashed their threats
in strangers’ faces for money’s meat.
By 22, same fists cuffed me
to the Missouri penitentiary, where,
gloved in the gym, Father Stevens
taught me to hurt others, legally.
slow guitar, soft trumpet, and a bell

17 straight wins, then Floyd Patterson
sucked canvas at my feet, but whose champion?
No mayor handed me the gold key,
or kid’s marching school band played
when I stepped off the plane in Philly.
I was still the gorilla in the ring,
a cage, white bars of stars and stripes
made in the U.S. of A.
slow guitar, soft trumpet, and a bell

Though Geraldine, her body a silk robe,
waited at home, and James Brown
screamed “Night Train” refrains
on the gym’s stereo, pumped me
to hit the speed bag, skip rope, spar miles—
something inside quiet, before Clay,
seventh round, Miami, jabbed me still.
Thought he was all mouth, but the man’s
hands backed up his flashy lip. Now,
I’d unslave his name, call him Ali.
soft guitar, slow trumpet, and a bell

The rest you know you don’t know:
did the mob, or a bad cop, tie
my arm to the white balloon of heroin
I finally rode out of Vegas-town,
or did I off myself, like an old felon.
You didn’t care if I lived,
why do you care how I died?
I’ll tell you when I see you in hell.
soft guitar, slow trumpet, and a bell

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Glenn Morazzini: “I was doing research for a poem on the boxer Ali, plowing through Remick’s King of the World, when I was struck by Sonny Liston’s words and story, and in the end he came away with the song.”

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