Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

A Million Ants Swarming through His Body

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

A Million Ants Swarming through His Body

Article excerpt

For José "Chegüí" Torres (1936-2009)

There is no storyteller like a storyteller with a broken nose.

Chegüí would jab my chest before he told the tale, and I would listen.

He was Puerto Rican, like me, and used to be the champion of the world.

He learned his English at the Army base in Baltimore, cracking

the sergeants ribs and jaw with a double left hook, body and head,

after the black boys in the barracks taught him what the sergeant

meant by saying: Get up nigger. Get up spic. Years later,

the sergeant would ask Do you remember me? and thank him.

The same left hook knifed the liver of Willie Pastrano at the Garden,

and he sank to the ropes, a million ants swarming through his body.

Three rounds later, the referee would tell him: You have nothing left.

The Puerto Ricans at the Garden sang and punched the air for Chegüí

de Playa Ponce, el campeón, a savior without nails hammered in his hands.

The next day Chegüí awoke with swollen knuckles. He spoke

from a fire escape at Lexington and 110th Street in El Barrio

to the Puerto Ricans who gathered in the thousands, roaring

at every word, janitors and dishwashers ready to march

and burn down the mayor s mansion at his command.

I won the title for all of us, he shouted, and the fire escape

shuddered beneath his feet, demon rust loosening the bolts. …

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