Aug. 10, 2006

Suck It Up

by Paul Zimmer

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Suck It Up" by Paul Zimmer from Crossing to Sunlight: Selected Poems. © University of Georgia Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Suck It Up

Two pugs on the undercard step through
The ropes in satin robes,
Pink Adidas with tassels,
Winking at the women in the crowd.
At instructions they stare down hard
And refuse to touch their gloves,
Trying to make everyone believe
That this will be a serious dust-up.

But when the bell rings they start
Slapping like a couple of Barbie Dolls.
One throws a half-hearted hook,
The other flicks out his jab,
They bounce around for a while
Then grab each other for a tango.
The crowd gets tired of booing
and half of them go out for a beer,
But I've got no place to hide.

A week after a cancer scare,
A year from a detached retina,
Asthmatic, overweight, trickling,
Drooling, bent like a blighted elm
In my pajamas and slippers,
I have tuned up my hearing aids to sit in
Numbness without expectation before
These televised Tuesday Night Fights.

With a minute left in the fourth,
Scuffling, they butt their heads
By accident. In midst of all the catcalls
And hubbub suddenly they realize
How much they hate each other.

They start hammering and growling,
Really dealing, whistling combinations,
Hitting on the breaks and thumbing.
At last one guy crosses a stiff jab
With a roundhouse right and the other
Loses his starch. The guy wades into
The wounded one, pounding him
Back and forth until he goes down,
Bouncing his head hard on the canvas.

The count begins but he is saved
By the bell and his trainers haul
Him to his stool as the lens zooms in.

I come to the edge of my La-Z-Boy,
Blinking and groaning from my incision,
Eager for wise, insightful instruction.

He gets a bucket of water in his face,
A sniff on the salts while the cutman
Tries to close his wounds with glue.
His nose is broken, eyes are crossed,
His lips bleed like two rare steaks.
His cornermen take turns slapping his cheeks.
"Suck it up!" they shout.
"Suck it up!"

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Joyce Sutphen, (books by this author) born in St. Cloud, Minnesota (1949). She's the author of Straight Out of View (1995), Coming Back to the Body (2000), and Naming the Stars (2003). Sutphen spent her childhood on a farm near St. Joseph, Minnesota. She said, "Like many of the people I had read about, I set out on a long journey to find truth and beauty. As usual, the road led straight back to the beginning: home, country roads, the sun setting through the woods."

It's the birthday of Herbert Hoover, (books by this author) born in West Branch, Iowa (1874), son of a Quaker blacksmith. In 1928 he ran for president with a reputation as a humanitarian for saving millions of Europeans from starvation during and after World War I. During the campaign, Hoover said: "We are nearer today to the ideal of the abolition of poverty and fear from the lives of men and women than ever before in any land." A year later, the 1929 stock market crash sent the country into the worst economic collapse in its history.

On this day in 1912, Virginia Stephen married Leonard Woolf. She was thirty, he was thirty-one, and they married at London's St. Pancras Registry Office. Together, the couple founded the Hogarth Press in their dining room. They taught themselves how to print. Their first project was a printed and bound pamphlet containing a story by each of them. They published Virginia Woolf's (books by this author) novels, a collection of Freud's papers, and the works of writers who were then unknown, including Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, and E.M. Forster.

It's the birthday of one of Brazil's best-loved writers: Jorge Amado, (books by this author) born near Ilhéus, Brazil (1912). He is one of the most widely translated novelists in the world; they called him the "Pelé of the written word." His thirty-two books sold millions of copies in forty languages. Brazilian hotels, bars, and restaurants, as well as brands of whiskey and margarine, were named for characters from his books. He's the author of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon (1958), Home is the Sailor (1961), and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1966).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show