by Lowell Jaeger

I’m trying my best to figure which move suckered me
most. The Gorilla Hug. Double Reverse. Reverse
Double Reverse. Or the Captain Jack, which tortured
my elbow behind my back. Then he’d cut me down
with the Lumberjack, drop me flat-faced on the mat.
Not once, but over and over, a whole month of gym class,

as long as Leon’s mom’s Bulldog job lasted, cocktail trays
balanced like she needed wages and never spilled a drop.
The Bulldog Grille, gut-punched and gasping for breath
when the King’s Feast moved in across the street.
Bullied into shabbiness by blood velvet glitz
of some rich bastard’s Chicago success expanded up north.

The Bulldog couldn’t afford the fact Leon’s mom was black.
No one said that right out. Local wives fussed about
her red heels and lips to match. Her much too perfect teeth,
her wide smile flashing like she owned rights
beyond what she’d been invited. And the men said, Fine.
Fine, as long as not too many wander up here and dig in for good.

What was it Leon guessed, averting my smile, holding his back?
Turning his gaze as if to look past me. Dropping his handshake
sooner than I’d quit mine. Could have muscled a quick
takedown, but wrestled me with a move he learned watching
his mom’s short stay, I’d bet. Gave me an opening to grab,
then suckered me off balance by jerking it back.

Lowell Jaeger has taught creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana for the past thirty years. As founding editor of Many Voices Press, he compiled New Poets of the American West (2010), an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. His third collection of poems, Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press) was published in 2009 and was a finalist for the Paterson Award. His fourth collection, WE (Main Street Rag Press) was published in 2010. Grayson Books published his fifth collection, How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past, and his sixth collection, Accidentally Still Blue, will be published in 2015. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. In 2011, Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.