Two fighters enter the ring
to begin their first round of three.
Their skin is clean,
unbruised and unbloodied,
their own names tattooed on their backs
so the saints can keep them straight.
Their gloves and mouthguards become ritual objects,
the cage, a temple,
and even the clock becomes holy.
The bell sounds,
and where men stood a moment ago,
They assess each other,
testing one another until
they become possessed with
their human hurt and their need for divine approval
and in their fury,
they go too far
and the dance becomes cruelty
from which their souls will never recover.
The God of War will accept nothing less
than a true blood sacrifice
and this is the only way
men know how to bleed.
The referee is the priest in this ceremony,
the crowd, a holy choir,
and the moderators are mouthpieces,
judging these two men
by how much of their body they can give,
and how much of their opponents they can take.
The men’s wives sit in the stands
counting every time the one they love nearly dies,
praying with a primality
and a salty-sweet vehemence
that rises like smoke and falls like ash.
When the next round begins,
they go in wild, all pain and power,
colliding together into the chainlink.
What is left of their minds kicks in,
and they thrash
with blood in their eyes
and sweat in their throats.
One gets lucky
and catches the other’s neck.
For a moment, they look like Cain and Abel,
and I wonder if losing is more holy.
The winner is awarded a championship belt,
a temporary godhead.
I asked God once what he thought about all this,
and he said that every strike is a confession,
that the mat is an atonement field.
He said that after a while,
the fight is what they repent for.
I laughed, and said,
And who’s fault is that?
Alorah Welti (she/her) is a nineteen-year-old Minnesota-born feminist, synesthete, and emerging poet and artist. She lives just north of North Adams, Massachusetts. Her Twitter is @alorahsky.