Beast: The Deconstruction of Charles “Sonny” Liston


While looking in the mirror, Cassius Clay, “The People’s Champion”, the U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist, prepares his mind for battle. For he must soon face the beast, “the killing machine, the indomitable-if evil-force, a brute, condemned to a life of trouble, a man of questionable ways, and a murderer.” He realizes that he may be in over his head, that he may not have enough experience, and that he might be risking his life. He has never faced a challenger quite like this before. Tonight he will not only be fighting Charles “Sonny” Liston; but he will also be fighting against a myth. He begins his pre- fight ritual but before that can happen, Lady Liberty must give him his rub down. While massaging his shoulders she whispers encouraging words in his ears,

 

―Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea washed, sunset gates shall a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name; Mother of exiles. From her beacon-hand glows worldwide welcome.1

 

Cassius Clay’s arms and legs that were once heavy and tight feel much lighter now. His wrists and ankles that felt confined as if shackled have loosened a bit. He begins to bob and weave not to avoid danger but to regain his balance; to center himself. He starts to shuffle his feet not to fetch after something but to find his rhythm; his core.

 

1 Not like brazen giant of Greek fame: “The New Colossus” is a sonnet by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), written in 1883 and , in 1903, engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

 


As he goes down on one knee to pray, he notices that the heaviness he was feeling before has returned. But it feels different now. This time the heaviness is the heaviness of the burden he must carry. In his heart he knows that this fight will be like no other. Because this time he is not just fighting for himself, he is now fighting for a people; for the fulfillment of a dream, a dream that must be realized… as soon… as the bell…rings.

 

Stop And Frisk

The door opens, white hands, badges and blue uniforms, I tense up. At an early age, I realized that my body did not belong to me. They “Stopped and Frisked” me, long before the law was in place. This is the day I learn my place. The slave on the auction block, ready to be bought and sold. Are they going to check my teeth? I’m trying to escape this humility, as white people drive by. Being put on display like a public lynching/barbecue. Why don’t they just put me in the police car? They sit me on the curb. They ask what’s in the bag? I tell them, my eraser, pencil, and my Etch
A Sketch. They do bodily harm, when they put their hands on me again. Today was my “Training Day”. I try to put my mind in another place, as I disconnect from my body. Flash forward 45 years, sitting in Starbucks. Door opens, white hands, badges and blue uniforms. I tense up, And in that moment, I realize that, black people don’t resist arrest, they react to 400 years of conditioning and oppression.
This was a true story by Lynel Gardner