Five Rounds: Boxing Sonnets

Father-Trainer: A Love Poem

From ringside I watch my boy’s body broken,

grids of blinding light make it feel like a dream.

My beatings were to teach, were never this bad, 

this ugly animal will become a haunting.

Only door he can open now is pain, death or worse—

fear—and gloves gathering dust in some corner.

And there it goes, falls in a damp heap—what power 

in a towel. Will he forgive this betrayal?

Now, he wants a new trainer, but I am his father.

In these hands, I held the infant version of that boy,

the same hands caught his fists as I knelt before him,

taught him to sink his weight, turn over the punch. 

       At ten, he lost his first bout and cried in my arms, fell asleep 

       in gloves and headgear, tears and sweat drying as one.
Un-titled: A Love Poem

For Erika Cruz

A third-round accident opens you 

to the world, and from you flows 

a river of roses, crimson blooms 

cover the Garden, exposes the fury

of your heart. You paint the arena 

with your life, stain the stage shades

of the fight inside you. Globs of jelly 

and adrenaline in your hair—black 

as blood—clot the flow for a moment, 

for another round, until all ten 

are tallied, and their decision is 

your guillotine and gallows,

the blade and the ropes,

your neck and your belts. 
Towels: A Love Poem

Unexpected: The last two years I didn’t 

want to live, the boxer says to the mic, 

eyes red from the fight and pouring sweat

like rounds won in a unanimous decision.
     My son sits on the floor, skinny legs
     at awkward angles, and cries about 
     coloring in the lines. His anger dries
     on his cheeks like a stained canvas.

Interviewer says, This is quite a moment,

filled with emotion, for you. Reply: 

I wanted to take my own life—and my dad

did. And how many times have I thought
     about throwing it in, but didn’t for the boy. 
     I guess it’s a split decision, but I won.
Cruiserweight: A Love Poem
I’m going to break him nose. I’m going to break him ribs.

I’m going to knock him out and the referee is going to stop

the fight. He will get punished for twelve rounds in the ring.

—Former WBC Champion Ilunga “Prince” Makabu 

It’s no joke to say I kissed him, after the fight,

placed my lips, instead of fists, above his brow,
    tasted the sweat of twelve long stanzas.

Though he’d swung with destructive intentions,

even the heavy hammer can’t crush stone

out of reach.    I was a liquid villain,

a river of white water and stinging fists,

my left jab surged, and I flowed around,
    riptide with a crashing overhand right.

I battered his majesty, and he fell,    got up, 

finished the fourth,    fought,   and was again dropped

in eleven.    Twelve he drowned.    The ref

waved, saved him from the deep, and then with 

my ribs intact, my nose unbroken, I embraced him.

    What kind of love is this?
Juggernaut: A Love Poem

	I can’t see nothing, gotta open my eye. Cut me, Mick. Cut me. Cut me.
—Rocky Balboa

I have a Sonoran Desert date —pump the jab—

the man they called favorite absorbs my fists

—move your head— voices hail his bone density,

they applaud his iron chin —use your jab—

but it don’t move, his head, it’s a target, 

his eye a balloon all tight and purple 

—move your goddamn head— never been knocked out,

they show the proof: clips of fireworks,

other men’s hard hands —watch him walk through shots—

starbursts explode on his skull —ooh! and ahh!— 

see how this superhuman can’t be deterred!

But they don’t say it’s a slow lobotomy.

The doctor stops the fight before round six,

he can’t see my left with his eye swollen shut.


F. Shepard resides in the American West with his wife and their two young boys. He is pursuing his MFA through the Rainier Writing Workshop at PLU, where he writes poetry about nature, boxing, and the beauty and challenge of being a father and a son. Besides writing, he enjoys film, photography, golf, and family adventures.