Master Plotto Week Four Winner: Henry Leung

Masie Cochran

It was another tough Plotto bout this week, with lots of good hooks, slips, jabs, uppercuts, knockdowns, and knockouts. Congratulations to Henry Leung, whose story reminded us of Sly, and Portland native Katherine Dunn’s collection, ONE RING CIRCUS: Dispatches from the World of Boxing.

Be sure to check back later today for this week’s prompt.

Last week’s prompt: {A}, a pugilist, believes that a friend whom he killed by a chance blow in a practice bout, is present in the ring every time he has battle.

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P O U N D   F O R   P O U N D

In the dream, I knew it was Jimmy because of how his lips pursed forward, like he was measuring how far away a berry was. I knew it because that’s how I was trained, too: it’s not how quick you punch but how quick you return the punch, like you’re stealing berries. I still dream it now, even after he’s long gone and I’ve paid his mother for the house he meant for her to buy. Sometimes in the dream he’s already dead, just standing there facing me, considering, and I hook and hook but he doesn’t move, his skull flakes away a bit at a time. Sometimes in the dream I knock him down, and he lifts himself up on his elbows, looks at me, and he starts counting to ten as if I were the fallen one. In the dreams he always looks at me. In the dreams he never closes his eyes.

In the ring, my job is to keep a man in trouble when he’s hurt. I wait until your heels are planted, and I hit you where you’re farthest from the earth. I step in like I’m ducking under the lid of a box, tighten the shell around my ribs, hit you with the force of my hips, then duck back out before you can see the fear in my eyes. The ring is a box. I’m always quitting in my mind, but every time you hit me I have to wake up from the nightmare. Nobody leaves the box. Jimmy falls and watches me with his toes pointing up. His nails keep growing.

They called in a priest that morning, and he told me that my dreams were just the sound of wind in the trees, that the Lord doesn’t show the future to just anyone. What he meant was that the palms of a boxer from Harlem are always empty; fate is never in a black man’s hands. I fight when I’m told to fight. I never walked across the edge of the abyss—my coach, my promoters, my cutman, they brought the abyss to me.

In the head, in the house, I hold the handle of my mug like a dumbbell. If I stop to think, I lose a moment and the ghost returns. I pick up my son and let him be an airplane. I let him hang from the hook of my arm. I tell him to punch me in the stomach as hard as he can, and with the years I feel it more and more. Age is punishment. Weight increases. A person grows heavier. I close my eyes and see the infinite versions of the past, and my limbs start to do their dance, acting out the precise violence they were taught in that dark space of sleep.

Henry W. Leung is a Kundiman Fellow and columnist for the Lantern Review. He is finishing his MFA at the University of Michigan. His recent/forthcoming poetry and prose can be found in Boxcar, CURA, Cerise Press, ZYZZYVA, Fiction Now, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.