The Contender & Proclamation | Peter E. Murphy

The Contender

Wasn’t it young Johnny Malloy who, zipping up and putting his pecker away after the circle jerk under the Crossbay Bridge, said that Father Smith was queer? Young Johnny Malloy who beat up his old man after his old man beat up his old lady? Young Johnny Malloy who, when I said Johnny you can’t hide out in my bedroom closet forever, said I’m gonna hitchhike to Paris? Young Johnny Malloy who didn’t know there was an ocean, at least, between him and the City of Light, who finally went home where his old man was afraid to hit him again? Young Johnny Malloy who in the Sunnyside Queens Arena, pounded his way through every thin sweating boy the Golden Gloves dropped in front of him? Young Johnny Malloy who punched through his reflection in the plate glass window of the House of Wong and never boxed again? Young Johnny Malloy who went down for manslaughter after shooting random dark-skinned men in East New York, winging two and killing a third? Johnny Malloy who died of a heart attack or cancer or cirrhosis or aids or hit by a truck or an airplane that fell out of the fucking sky, don’t ask me, I don’t know, who, when he said that about Father Smith, the priest who set up the little league and befriended every battered boy in Howard Beach, I said, No way—then heard again the fluttering robes and felt the weight pressing my face into the woolen carpet on the rectory floor, felt his hand grazing my ass, my penis—O Johnny Malloy, O beaten mother, beaten father, O Golden Gloves, Crossbay Bridge, O House of Wong, O murdered strangers—forgive us, our sins, and what’s become of us. 


Whereas Patty McShithead decided to pick on two boys younger than he was, knock them around, push them into the hole they dug in the soggy ground between the Howard Beach train tracks and Idlewild Airport, soon to be rechristened for the newly dead president.

Whereas Patty McShithead, maybe twelve years old, threw rocks at these boys, maybe eight or nine, as they ran away to the roar of jet engines so loud I could not hear myself yell, Patty, Stop being a such and such and leave them alone!

Whereas Patty McShithead was fast to turn and run when the boys returned with half a dozen big, big brothers carrying sticks and stones and one of them a gun he cocked against my chest even as the two little boys protested, No, not him, the other one who ran away.

Whereas it never occurred to me until then that the God I believed in would punish me for another boy’s sins as the brothers shoved me along the Belt Parkway, pressing the gun against the back of my neck.

Whereas a car stopped, an ordinary car driven by an ordinary looking man who opened his door, stepped out, and said, Son, do you need a ride?

Whereas the gun disappeared and the brothers disappeared and I lunged into the back seat next to two little boys who were crying while their mother fumed in front, never turning around to look at me as the man pulled from the shoulder into the flow of Parkway traffic.

Now, therefore, I do hereby proclaim that fifty years ago I believed I was about to die when a man swerved his family away from where they had planned to go that day and he kindly stopped for me and drove me home.

 Peter E. Murphy is the author of Stubborn Child, a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, and a chapbook, Thorough & Efficient, both from Jane Street Press. When not teaching at Richard Stockton College, he directs the annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers and teachers in the U.S. and abroad.


Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

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