Poetry: Emile

In 1962, welterweight champion Emile Griffiths goes toe-to-toe with Benny “Kid” Paret in Madison Square Garden. The air is filled with salt and sweat and shouts as the fight roars on. Losing the fight, Kid called Emile a “fa**ot”. A hideous slurred that fueled his unfethered rage, causing Emile to punish Kid for round after round until he was KO’d in the 12th round. Kid Paret would die of complications from his wounds 10 days later. Randall’s poem is a reflection of the moment between rage and the frustration of being an openly queer men back then and even now. As brutal and elegant as a boxer in defense, the poem’s lyrical muscularity persists line after line after line.




“They could forgive me for killing a man but not for loving one”- Emile Griffith


When I beat him      every lens swelled shut
I got fight stories to tell     that shame hunger
for the percussion involved in return
Imagine what a child imagines    the answer
to everything is in a man’s mouth   just because
It’s where the music begins     I didn’t mean
anything similar to lust when we started
he called me a faggot and the uvula is
analogous to a speedbag     you know the duality
of my percussion     I like to dance in the swelter
of need regardless the body I like to make the skin
quiver on what might come back
I understand    the sad calculus of vanity
beauty springs from the unforgiven
I can’t say his death was anything like anything
I have ever wanted on purpose
Rather consider the slaughter    I would have to make
to shame even an American eye for decades
I did not do anything      that a kiss couldn’t
I unbloomed an iris    shucked the teeth from his mouth
then resumed being beautiful      loving what I was famous
for ending       the privilege of champions is what you kill
only visits in dreams      what do I know at this point
of the melody of begging  but the way swell restrains an M
Maricon maricon maricon mari mari Mary mercy mercy the knuckle
a seed in the soil of the eye     the gusts of blood sewing the canvas
a proliferation of roses     This my most public sin    I skim the petals
of scar tissue from my hands       until my knuckles are riddled with tender
lenses        I sleep next to my man     I sleep with one wound open




Julian Randall

Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. A recipient of multiple fellowships, Julian is the winner of a Pushcart Prize. He holds an MFA in Poetry from Ole Miss. Julian is the author of Refuse (Pitt, 2018), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa (Holt Books for Young Readers, March 2022). He can be found at @JulianThePoet and on his website JulianDavidRandall.com.

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