I am just a poor boy
Though my story's seldom told
One of the unlooked-for highlights of my visit to
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises
The second time I listened, I saw something which shifted and deepened my understanding of the pain which rings through a song that I have heard since my childhood.
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
As a child I had listened to the song, sung and strummed by a brilliant, handsome, talented, alcoholic uncle who grieved so deeply over what he saw around him that the only way he knew how to cope was to numb himself. When he sang "The Boxer" with me as I got older, the only way I could keep my voice steady as we sang was to pinch myself.
When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
When the descending ripple of chords which begins "The Boxer" sounded that second night, I was once again in the front row, and once again just behind a man who clearly lived very near the spot he occupied in the Piazza.
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Until the opening chords, he had been loud and raucous, demanding songs, mumbling a loud commentary. Now he quieted.
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know
His hair was grey, though so filthy and matted it looked brown; the color of his clothes equally indistinguishable. He was clutching a bottle of clear liquid, nearly half full.
Asking only workman's wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores on
I listened to the sweetness of the twining voices, remembering my uncle, and saw that the man in front of me had drawn his legs to his chest. His arms were crossed over them, the hands gripping his smutted sleeves seamed and grained with dirt until every line and crack on them stood clear against the tanned skin.
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
He moved to grip the neck of his bottle and took a long swig, and I saw that the bottle was now less than a third full. He set it down again on the flat slabs of slate, but the sound was lost in the amplified echo of the singers' voices.
Then I'm laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone- going home
Leading me, going home
His head was drooping towards his knees, his lips barely moving as he mouthed the words of the song, and I thought for a moment he might pass out. But he didn't. He only put his head down on his knees, one arm wrapped around them, one hand still on the bottle.
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
He began rocking back and forth, gently, slowly, with the rhythm of the song, still curled into himself. Still clutching his bottle.
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
The song was almost ended. He uncurled himself. I thought he might get up. Might leave. I thought I saw tears in his eyes, though they were so glassy with alcohol it was hard to tell.
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
He sat silently, stilly, wide-eyed and staring, as the song ended and the singers faded on the last chorus.
But the fighter still remains
And as the applause began, it was I who had to turn away.