by Apollo Papafrangou

In this corner
Hailing from the big-book-of-medical-conditions
more commonly known as the Bible-of-all-Things-That-Can-Go-Wrong…
weighing in at an immeasurable amount of agony and anxiety
with a record of A-whole-hell-of-a-lot-of-wins, and zero losses
Named via the Greek words “ηδρο” for water and “κεφαλος” for head
Is the mighty crusher of craniums

And in this corner…
Hailing from Oakland, California
via an arrival two-months premature
Weighing in at a mere three pounds
and two ounces
Kicking and screaming
through the blood of his birth
despite his current record of
zero wins
and zero loses
is baby boy


So, what do you think about this match-up, Carl?
Well, Dave,
“Water on the brain” is the condition
Baby Boy Apollo is facing here…
Most likely contracted during his bout with
Hydrocephalus’ power lies in its jab

It wears you down blow-by-blow
inflicting throbbing pain to the head

The knock out punch, that one that lands you in
the hospital for another surgery,
can come at any time.

Fascinating, Carl, fascinating…
So, what are Apollo’s keys to victory tonight?
Well, Dave, they’re giving him a 50/50 survival
rate at this point
but even in the best-case scenario
the risk of brain damage is high

Given Apollo’s minimal punching power
He is just a baby, after all, despite his godly name
I’d say his best bet is to
dance around that squared circle
for as long as possible
Take full advantage of that
incubation tank
Get in a couple good shots
then get the hell out of the way

Fascinating, Carl, fascinating…
Yes, well, Dave. Whether or not
our hero can actually pull it off remains to be seen.

Yes, Carl?
Oh, wow… Dave?
Yes, Carl?
I think…oh, wow…I think…
Dave, I think this baby’s gonna pull
He’s putting up a hell of a fight…

A full-fledged
adult now
though the fight lives on

Has it been 20 years
since the last
time I was called into the ring?
The last time I was taken
to the task
of defending my title
against mighty Hydrocephalus
Illness of goose-egg biceps and iron fists

As a child I endured a surgery every two years
got used to the squeal of waxed floors
beneath my tiny sneakers
The rush of wheels over tile
My hospital bed took corners like a race car
on its path to the operating room
where the medics would stand over me
Angels in white
their surgical caps
haloed by the yellow iridescent glare
of florescent lamps

I breathed the sweet bitterness of
in my ascent
to some place between sleep and death
Heaven would have to wait
and thank God it was patient

I was just an innocent patient
scared of not knowing what was wrong
Not knowing why not even being a good boy
the best boy I could be
could spare me from the headaches
the vomiting
The pleas to please make this stop as I clutched my
action figure tight

Mama, please, mama
Why, mama?

But mama can’t come with you
where you need to go now
Mama’s boy
you have to fight alone

There is no cure for this

They now say my case isn’t a severe
Though it certainly felt like the end of the world

I’ve stopped growing
I mean I’ve stopped getting taller
less need to replace
the catheter

The catheter
and the bulb of which
under X-Ray
looks like an eye
an eye that sees my fate like an oracle
an eye I wish to blind like Oedipus
while I
it’s seen me through
the problems this affliction has caused

In school my thoughts often swam
my brain awash in fluid
I was sometimes slow
to get the answer
to overstand
Slow to persevere
Though I’ve had to

I may never again have to pick up my trusty gloves
but trust I keep them close at hand.

The beast is dormant
The beast is invisible
which is to say
you can’t spot it while looking at me
but look me in the eyes
just long enough
to see what I’ve endured.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Though I have been writing fiction since I was twelve years old, poetry has been a fairly recent endeavor. Only within the last year or so has it become an art form I’ve really started to explore. To me, poems are just distilled thoughts. I’m drawn to the form because there are certain ideas I may have that don’t lend themselves to the narrative structure — concepts I want to express that wouldn’t necessarily be able to carry an entire story. The concise nature of poetry is a perfect outlet for these ideas. Greek mythology/and tradition has a tremendous influence on my work. Greece is a land of poets — from Homer and Sappho to Cavafy and Seferis. As a writer you can’t help but be inspired. My Greek heritage always finds its way into my work, whether fiction or poetry. That cultural experience is so rich, and I think Greeks naturally want to share it with other cultures. Our food, language, and customs — they all seep into the sentences and stanzas.

IMAGE: “Apollo” by Will Baumeister (1923).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Apollo Papafrangou is a writer of novels, short stories, and poems from Oakland, California. He is a 2010 graduate of the Mills College Creative Writing MFA program, and is the author of Concrete Candy, a short story collection published by Anchor Books in 1996 when he was just 15 years old. More info can be found at his website, www.apollopapafrangou.wordpress.com.