The men whose lives I write
could break me with a look.
Even if they’re retired they take up
the whole room, have heavy arms
and shadows I could never cast.
If they’ve started on their own
it’s usually a mess—scribbles
that don’t make sense, myths no one
will believe. Some admit
their memories are shot, how fast
their moods can shift. If they resort
to rage or tears, try to hide behind
their characters, I look down
at my notes, pretend I haven’t heard
what I’ll take home on tape.
Fans want to feel like they’re getting
the guy outside the ring, hearing
stories no one could’ve guessed,
but those stories have to fit
the outlines in their heads.
Wrestlers can talk about depression,
drugs, arrests and infidelity as long
as they’re past tense, problems
overcome with rehab, prayer
and working out. No one wants them
to confess the debts and demons
they have now, wounds surgery
can’t heal. My guys may tell me
their whole truth, but I only write
what fans will pay to read.
What I Let Do Me In
The trouble was I couldn’t shut my mouth,
keep still when I felt jerked around.
Wrestlers get lied to all the time—
good match, great move, the crowd
popped hard tonight, the office has
big plans for you, you’ll find out soon—
but when people said those things to me
I fell for them, got mad that they
weren’t true. There wasn’t one thing
I complained about that bothered only me:
Boys whispered in the locker room,
threw tantrums in their cars,
but when I spoke up they’d stare down
at the floor, pretend they were surprised.
I had plenty of good matches, nights
the lights and love from fans made me
forget how sore I was—but once
the bell had rung, I’d go back to feeling
used up and held down. Even praise
could set me off if it seemed insincere,
was phrased the wrong way. After I got fired,
I’d grovel and apologize, beg matches
I was better than to prove I was reformed.
For six months I could keep my word.
Then I’d get backed into a corner,
feel the turnbuckles biting my spine
and start a fight I knew I couldn’t win.
How well I could wrestle was never
in doubt, but only half our business
happens in the ring. It was everything
surrounding it that I let do me in.
Carrie Shipers is the author of two chapbooks and three full-length collections, Ordinary Mourning (ABZ Press, 2010), Embarking on Catastrophe (Able Muse Press, 2015), and Family Resemblances (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Southern Review, among other journals.