Poetry: Three Dead Wrestler Elegies by W. Todd Kaneko

W. Todd Kaneko

The Grand Wizard of Wrestling Can Make You a Man

The Grand Wizard can take a boy out
of his everyday skin, clothe him in quasar
and chrome, in husks left by constellations
before they rose to Heaven.

The Grand Wizard stands by your side,
cackles in your ear, turns your wishes
into promises, into bare knuckles.

The Grand Wizard conceals a zeal for cruelty
beneath a sinister turban, a coyote’s heart
under polyester, those feathers he wears
plucked from phoenix breast and harpy wing.

The Grand Wizard transforms handshakes
into sledgehammers, your shy footstep
into a sexy beast’s swagger. Your bow tie
can be a handlebar mustache if you want,
your spectacles an astronaut’s suit.

The Grand Wizard can make a man forget
about his old life, the epistemology of loss.
A marriage worn thin, your father’s ashes spread
across the night sky reflected on the surface
of a turbulent lake, a story about death.

The Grand Wizard can change your nervous grin
into the lion’s jaws, your apologies into the maw
of a crocodile. He sees your future in the stars,
offers you dominion over love and rage
and grief. Just look into the Grand Wizard’s eyes.
You will never see his eyes.

Rikidozan Was Big in Japan

After the empire fell, after the fires
left scars over backs of foxwife
and fisherman, Rikidozan invented
professional wrestling for Japan,
swallowed the atomic bomb, then
devised a new word for faith.
After my mother left us, after
my father dreamed of starting over
in a new place, the way Rikidozan
appeared in Japan with karate
chops and arms that grapple
men to the canvas for a quick one
two three—Rikidozan, with thunder
in his hands and sun fire to forge
new names for virility, for honor.
Rikidozan with eagle claw. Knife
hand. Dragon’s tongue. Rikidozan
using the deadliest parts of a man
to breathe life into battered bodies.
My father watching television late
into night until every grappler faded
into static and snow. My father
tinier in that dark room than he is now
in death. Rikidozan devising new names
for manhood. My father proclaiming
that professional wrestling is fake,
Rikidozan explaining that authenticity
doesn’t matter when a man
needs something to believe in.

The Missing Link Explains How to Be a Monster

Do not look at mirrors. Do not fight
the urge to speak without consonants.
Sharpen your antlers against a coral reef,
fins against an elm tree, hooked teeth
against a fire engine. Do not grow up.

Loosen the needlework that fastens
a man’s soul to his bones, his bones
to the names he is called by his children.
Release a man from his skeleton, wrestle him
out of his old skin and let him rise
steaming into night. The referee’s hand

slapping the canvas three times is the last thing
a man hears before he must reckon
with his body’s malfunction. Be reborn

with a snake’s complexion, a caveman’s brow.
Terrify the crowd with a prehistoric tongue,
words cracking more like a thunderstorm
than a song for the moon. Don’t be afraid

when you awake after a fight, your new body
smeared with blood. Smash your head
into a redwood, a mountain if you want,
until the whole world lay in pieces at your feet.

Try not to grow up to be like your father.
End up exactly like your father.

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2014), and co-author of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). His poems and prose have appeared in The Normal School, Barrelhouse, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many other journals and anthologies. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches at Grand Valley State University.

Image: Rikidozan, public domain

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