Derek JG Williams

May 24, 2020 Williams Derek JG


$25 Cleaning Fee
For Vomit Or Blood

—the sign near
the gym lockers.

Under a lather
of sweat,

the ring’s
a demanding altar.


His father was a fighter.
His uncles fought.

They used to call
him Pretty Boy, now

he goes by Money.
In Vegas, he dons

mouthguards of diamond
dust, of gold foil, of crushed

hundred dollar bills. His ring-smile
spills immaculate light.


He leaves pyramids
of rubber band stacks

locked in a closet safe.
A bagman with cash

trails behind him; does what
he’s told: fists

full, he unrolls and counts.
Money rolls deep, tips

the blackjack dealer, never holds
his tongue, strolls off.


He’s made of fiction—
posts bail, posts up

in the gym at 2:00 AM.
The women’s charges

are fact. The evidence:
bruises and contusions.

The ropes’ friction
burns and wakes him.

A hook to the ribs turns
and baits him. Money

talks through
his guard. His art is perfect.

He doesn’t take ribbing,
wouldn’t give one

for all creation.
He refutes the charges.

I’ll beat them all, he says—
refusing to be defeated.


A shadow dances
in the opposite

corner: it wheels,
weaves, won’t wait

to begin. The bell
will ring, the crowd

will crow or rise
in tribute.

In his corner, father
and uncle fall silent,

smearing Vaseline
along his smooth brow.

Money doesn’t blink,
pays them no mind.

The applause
doesn’t last. Nothing leaves

a mark, or mauls
his slick cheek.


He fights for money.
Glory be to get paid:

Franklins, Benjamins
fanned out between

thumb and forefinger,
He boasts of more

to come. It’ll come
and come, money

that won’t come
easy, money

fought for—
money won.

His father beat him
when he was young.

Beat him with belt
and fist, gloved or not.


Memory, strongest
of the senses, potent

he drinks it—
elixir that remembers

when he forgets
when he is.

Derek JG Williams is an American writer and the author of Poetry Is a Disease (Greying Ghost Press 2022). He holds a doctorate in English and Creative Writing from Ohio University, and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts. His poems and prose are published or forthcoming in Pleiades, Banshee, Salamander, Best New Poets, Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, and Bear Review, among others. He lives in Germany with his wife and dog. Learn more about him at