“The Real Wrestler,” a Poem by Michael Chin

Michael Chin | Poetry

He used to spend Saturday afternoons grinding his way through tournament brackets soaked in his sweat, the other boy’s sweat, sweat soaked into the mat from matches long before.

Now he wrestles nights. If you could call it wrestling, this throwing another man with his cooperation. This laying still to take the pin to while the ref counts to three.

They call other wrestlers real, but he sees through their loose waist locks and sloppy takedowns.

He used to do up-down drills. Used to focus on leg strength in the weight room. Now the boys look at him like he’s crazy for doing Hindu squats in the locker room until he’s sweating, until his quads throb, until he pisses just a little bit of blood. It’s an upper body business they tell him, but they don’t propel themselves across the ring for the flying headbutt the way he does.

Still, people say his life’s work is fake. The people–the Internet hack, the reporter who didn’t bother to check facts, the guy at the bar.

But this is the guy he’s been waiting for. Big and solid, if potbellied. An everyday Joe tough-guy who picks fights he’s certain he’ll win.

Who you calling fake? The Real Wrestler asks.

The man’s breath reeks of cheap beer when he says, You.

The Real Wrestler gets him in the parking lot. Brings the other wrestlers to have his back if the potbellied man’s buddies jump him.

The fight’s over before it can really begin. Fireman’s carry takedown into a hammerlock and cross face. He gets the man on his stomach and drives his knee into the man’s spine until he cries out. Real pain. Real tears.

And in that instant before the calls to let him go and before the brawl and before the police sirens—there is the real joy unique to real wrestling.

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press. He won Bayou Magazine’s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

Image Credit: “Wrestling match sponsored by American Legion, Sikeston, Missouri” Russell Lee, courtesy of the Library of Congress.