Before

I craved that torture,
lapping the mat with my palm
or back or skull so I could slam
someone else against it.  The silent
satisfaction when I found that no one,
no one could turn me on my back.
The peripheral black that crept in
when dojo doors sealed in stale air
thick with sweat and heaving breaths,
when I was too close to failing weight
to join the water break.  When
I could sweat off three pounds
in two hours, when I’d spend all day
spitting into a water bottle just to drop
a measly point-one for the meet.  When
fingerprint bruises turned into fractured ribs,
and dislocated shoulders over-rotated
like Barbie doll arms.  When feet
smashed against the floor to jam “spilled toes”
back into place.  When tape was an honor,
not a weakness.  Those were the days
when I had permission to scream
and empty my lungs before
bowing into a match.

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