Ethiopia Shall Stretch Forth Her Hands (The Seven Commandments of Joe Louis)

Joe Louis, mid-clinch,

is lifting his opponent –

the six-foot six inch ‘Ambling Alp’, Primo Carnera, –

into the air.

In the Hague,

Italian and Ethiopian officials

have come to the end of their first day

of arbitration talks.

Here, in the Yankee Stadium,

Carnera will soon sink to his knees

‘slowly, like a great chimney that had been dynamited’.


For breakfast this morning, Carnera consumed

a quart of orange juice, two quarts of milk,

nineteen pieces of toast, fourteen eggs,

a loaf of bread and half a pound of Virginia ham.

If he took The Washington Post

he will have seen a cartoon showing himself and Louis in the ring.

The illustrated Louis cast a dreadlocked shadow,

his shadow wore a crown.


Louis will start throwing bombs in the sixth round

and knock the Italian down twice

before a right-left combination

ends the fight.

Louis will touch a glove to Carnera’s lower back

after the bell, and return to his corner

without celebration.


Joe Louis has been given seven commandments

by his new manager to ensure he progresses

towards a title shot unhampered

by comparisons to Jack Johnson.

He is never to have his picture taken with a white woman.

He is never to go to a nightclub alone.

There will be no soft fights.

There will be no fixed fights.

He will never gloat over a fallen opponent.

He will keep a ‘dead pan’ in front of the cameras.

He will live and fight clean.


In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr will write

“More than twenty-five years ago, one of the southern states

adopted a new method of capital punishment.

Poison gas supplanted the gallows.

In its earliest stages, a microphone was placed inside

the sealed death chamber so that scientific observers

might hear the words of the dying prisoner.

The first victim was a young Negro.

As the pellet dropped into the container,

and the gas curled upward,

through the microphone came these words:

‘Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis…’