The Voice of Hercules

JD Debris

Remembering that heavyweightwe’d call Hercules,a mellow steroid fiendwho never sparred, just raisedbarbells ‘til he was swollen as that solemnBritish killer from Ninja 2: Shadowof a Tear. He’d flex, hit vacuumposes in ringside mirrors, taking photoafter photo, & lounge in the locker room,nothing but a sideways Sox hat on.A garden-variety goonwith a garbled, guttural monotone& shriveled steroid balls:so Hercules seemed, on the surface.But every word he spoke was praise—“So sick, bro”—softly, near-inaudible.One night, the gym screened a pay-per-view—De la Hoya or Money May.All us gym rats came backin jewelry, jeans, & the reekof cologne instead of sweatto cozy up between dormantheavy bags & watch the fightsprojected on industrial concrete.I brought my old acousticfor between-fight amusement,background-strumming a soundtrackto our cacophony. Hercules satbeside me, saying, “Bro,can you play a corrido beat?”I started to strum a stock waltz-meter,& Hercules, in a bass bel cantothat could rumble the cheap seatsof an opera hall, began a Spanish balladabout a lost bantamweightnamed Amen, who had disappeared,the lyrics went, to Mexico last spring,whom no one had heard from since.The gym was quiet one verse in.Pay-per-view muted, everyone listeningto this supposed boneheadchannel beauty. To his ballad,its fragility—Fly,little dove, fly, he’d sighat verses’ end. I’m amazedthat no one laughed at him—insults, back then, our linguafranca & form of praise—in that moment so holy& ridiculous, when his lips formed O’son long, puretones, & every chordperfectly—somehow—harmonized.I can’t tell you which prize-fighter won that bout,or if we gorged on pizza & beer,blowing off our weight-making regimens.I can’t tell you if it rained, I can’t pretendto know if sparks flew inside all those earsbent in unison toward the amenHercules incanted. As for him,his trainer, a hardass marine,got sick of his preening& told him go find another gymwhere he could kiss his bicepsin the mirror, & drink his creatine& beast his endless deadlift reps.How many songs has he sung since,in the shower of a distant gymwhere he still takes his sweet timesoaping every ropelike vein?What I know, I’ll tell:around the campfire of the muted fightsthat night, he was our horn of Gabriel,our nightingale mid-flight.Sing it again, Hercules?                                                                        “Aight.”

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JD Debris writes poems, songs, and prose. He held the Goldwater Fellowship at NYU from 2018-20, where he completed his MFA. In 2020, his work was chosen by Ilya Kaminsky for Ploughshares’ Emerging Writers Prize, and he was named to Narrative’s 30 Below 30 list. His releases include the chapbook Sparring (Salem State University Press, 2018) and the music albums Black Market Organs (Simple Truth Records, 2017) and JD Debris Murder Club (forthcoming).

Image of Ninth Letter Issue Spring/Summer '21

Spring/Summer '21

Champaign, Illinois

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Philip Graham

Poetry Editor
Corey Van Landingham

Ninth Letter is the award-winning literary arts journal edited and produced by the Creative Writing Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The journal's mission is to present original literary writing of exceptional quality, illuminated by cutting-edge graphic design.

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