Mae Young Has Always Been the Heel by W. Todd Kaneko

Mae Young Has Always Been the Heel by W. Todd Kaneko


            Anybody can be a babyface, what we call a clean

            wrestler. They don’t have to do nothing. It’s the heel

            that carries the whole show. I’ve always been a heel,

            and I wouldn’t be anything else but.

            —Mae Young, professional wrestler


Anybody can be the tulip, the nightingale,

cherry blossoms wafting across orchards

in summer. It’s easy for a woman to cock

her hip and smile at boys, for a girl

to glimmer in rhinestones and lipstick.


Screw that—I’ve never seen a woman

I couldn’t lick, never a man I couldn’t

hammerlock and stomp into the canvas.


Forget flowers, following animals naked

and pale through groves to gravestones.

Give me a cigar and a pair of trousers,

zipper up the front and rolled at the cuffs.

We can go down to the waterfront, pick fights

with longshoremen, with sharks.


Anybody can get married, start a family

and dance to songs on the radio.

I am the alligator’s smile, perilous

and sexy like a cocaine spoon,

like a barbed wire kiss. I fight in a cage


because some nights I am showered

with beer bottles and old vegetables.

Other nights men seek shelter

from my elbows and knees. It’s easy

for stadiums to rally against me, for cities

to curse my name all night. I’ll always be

the heel, desire and violence flickering

together like a house and a fire,

like your house and my fire.


W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems and prose have appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Barrelhouse, PANK, The Collagist, and many other journals and anthologies. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is an assistant professor at Grand Valley State University. Visit him at


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