Sumo in Milan

In Oakland at a therapy conference

the presenter talks about his travels—

Harlem last night, Memphis tomorrow—

trains us about trauma, how slow

chronic stress can be more debilitating

than even crisis; how desperate

you can get in a motel before sleep,

watching reality TV to avoid reality—

relegated to body-building shows

sculpting a six-pack, even eight

defined muscle groups, which

as a psychologist he thought a bit much

even as a defense mechanism.

All he wanted was a toned round mound.


I think about my mid-life Italy trip,

stuck in Milan’s industrial section

waiting for a morning flight

looking for something, anything

on the tiny television with four

incomprehensible channels,

settling for the Japanese Sumo

competition I watched mesmerized:

immense mountains of men

in white cotton colliding,

stomping bare feet, glistening bellies

oiled for battle, black ponytails

scything the air like swords.


Sometimes you need

to face something immense

that doesn’t speak your language,

wants to dominate you,

kneel on your throat,

see what you’re made of.


Dane Cervine’s latest book is entitled How Therapists Dance, from Plain View Press (2013), which also published his previous book The Jeweled Net of Indra.  His poems have been chosen by Adrienne Rich for a National Writers Union Award; by Tony Hoagland as a finalist for the Wabash Poetry Prize; a Second Place prize for the Caesura Poetry contest, and the Morton Marcus prize; twice a finalist for, and the 2013 winner of, the Atlanta Review’s International Poetry Prize; and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Look for his essays at TriQuarterly, CONTRARY, and The Turning Wheel