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Two Wrestling Poems

Wrestling Stories
Mar 7, 2015 · 3 min read

by Greg McBride

Whistled Alive

Late fall, the world again closing in
upon itself. Nights extend, days stall,
and the chill takes hold of Pennsylvania.
We hibernate under artificial light
in the practice room where crewcut coaches
bark enduring truths then whistle us alive
in this rite reserved for the quick, the strong,
the sinewy light doggedly wary.
This must be some kind of love, this shutting out,
shutting in, this drain of self into self,
more weight to shoulder through our hunger.
We shuffle and tender sugarfeet.
He’s a mirror-me: I claw, he claws, heads butt,
hands seize slick muscle. I collar him,
rough a forearm hard to his clavicle,
stutter-step. Balance, balance is all.
I am stronger, faster. So say tight grips,
the hurried brawl. I flash to a leg;
he drops to splay his weight over me,
the way soggy nautical rope might feel —
knotty, tentacular, doughy. He grabs
my head, wheels on the axis he makes of me.
His strength meets mine, I parry his every move
(each the other reified). The mild sorrow
of blood rises warm in my mouth.
He’s on his back! I power down, but he rears
unstoppably from the mat. Sudden loss,
sudden win. We practice both, again, again.
No winner here, it’s him, myself, I pin.

first appeared in

Tight Waist

Pennsylvania, 1963
(In memory of Coach Chris Poff, 1929–1998)

Like preening cocks crouched grim, we circle —
he in white with red piping, I red and blue.

We hand jive the close space. I’m intrigued
by his strength, his two-step swagger.

His right heel barely rises, rolling weight
onto the ball of the foot where the slightest

lift begins the transfer from right to left,
the way a vaulter shifts from foot to planted pole.

He repeats this move again, again.
I’m alert to the possibilities,

observe his pattern, his cadence.
I paw the mat, ready my sugar-foot thigh.

Now his center describes a shallow arc
to an apex that barely arrives, from which

he’s suspended, between two havens.
And I strike, lunging past his defenses.

I don’t hear his gasp, his suck of shock.
I don’t hear the squeak of weightless Tigers

toeing the Resilite. Not the rising
roar of ten thousand. He sees me coming,

as in a dream, and wills a landing safe
on the left, but gravity will not be hurried,

and I’m there, behind, savoring his sweat,
clamping a tight waist. “Takedown!” the ref cries.

from Porthole (Briery Creek Press, 2012)

Greg McBride is a former Princeton wrestler, class of 1967. His collection of poems, “Porthole,” won the 2012 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry. His work appears in Gettysburg Review, River Styx, Salmagundi, and Southern Poetry Review. His awards include the Boulevard Emerging Poet prize and a grant in poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council. A Vietnam veteran and retired lawyer, he edits The Innisfree Poetry Journal.

Originally published at

Wrestling Stories

Celebrating wrestling through story

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