My father would never let me do boxing—
and I hated him for that.
I would see the other boys come out of the red brick club house
behind the Parochial Hall, smoking half butts
worn leather gloves hanging around their necks

the lights of the halls burning away the winter gloom
the ropes hanging from the low ceiling
the suspended punch bags
the torn posters—
the stink of the blocked drains.

The trainer worked in the local butcher shop,
Why don’t you call up? he would say
on Saturday mornings as I waited to buy the weekend meat,
It will make a man of you.

Then he would show me round to the back
where the sides of cows hung from hooks
fresh blood dripping on to sawdust.

Go on, he insisted, get stuck in,
and I would punch the carcass
until my knuckles split and became bloody—

beyond the pain, I was ecstatic,
Soften it up, he urged, soften it up.

My father would never let me do boxing
years later I understood:
when I think of the thud of fist on flesh
I remember how he softened them up first
before abusing them.