Daniel Holland
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Apology to Leon Spinks

Taking my turn at the front of the class
with a clever essay in the Spring of 10th grade
I was the new kid barely glancing up

You were my joke
I took advantage
and used good timing

I mocked your muddy speech
and ignored all your prodigy
looking for my easy mark

Laughs came from out in the desk chairs
while I made everyone feel we were smarter than you
and so snatched brave victory from an opponent who wasn’t even there

I can’t blame Mercy for arriving too late
since it was me who often abandoned her during all those years of gives and takes
but now when I count my regrets your name still shows up

It wasn’t some classically themed Hubris that put you down
only me with a high school essay
or just one more mortal making a misguided sacrifice

A whirling dissonant mass of combinations
you were the fighter who could inspire the Rite of Spring
when you upset the world like the unknown Stravinsky

Who knew untamed warriors could have a six-year-old’s smile
or that nights spent stoned under neon meant the pugilist never needs rest
but just like the Green Lantern you too visited space from time to time

A human-headed lion who refused to sit around much
you might not have outwitted Oedipus or anyone else
still when given your shot you defeated the king

I went to see you the following year at Joe Louis Arena
no longer champ and fighting in Hell for your own futile redemption
when like me you too became unconscious

Both of us now having only partially recovered
my eyes have cleared enough to see I was just another jeer in the crowd
when really you were the humanity I was looking for

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leon

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Notes: Leon Spinks achieved one of the most exciting upsets in boxing history in 1978 when, at the age of 24, having had only 8 professional fights, he defeated the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali, in a 15 round decision in Las Vegas. Leon was the only fighter ever to take Ali’s championship from him in the ring. He lost the belt in a 15 round rematch with Ali seven months later. He proceeded to live a wild life full of parties, drugs, and overly generous giving. Leon fought for the title one last time in Detroit against Larry Holmes in 1981 and was knocked out in the third round. As his career wore on too long, he eventually lost or tied almost as many fights as he won. After a series of particularly tough defeats, Leon finally retired from the sport. His drug use growing worse in retirement, he became homeless for a time. He eventually found work in a fast food restaurant and as a janitor in Nebraska, where he also coached kids in boxing skills in a small town gym. Despite ferocity in the ring, and along with his renown for having defeated the greatest heavyweight of all time, Leon Spinks was known for his kindness and friendliness to strangers.

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Dan Holland grew up in Detroit and managed to see the rise of the great Kronk Gym fighters during the heydays of the 70s and 80s.  He currently lives in Minneapolis.