Portraits in Merciless Strokes of Celadon, Mauve, and Puce

Tom Zimberoff


Prizefighter, Kasamune Spirits / ©2023 Tom Zimberoff

“Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson

The blood-stained canvas holds a manifest allure for those who step through the ropes and expose themselves to the unrelenting force of an opponent who likewise seeks transcendence in the chaos of combat. It’s not about self-defense. Nor is it about beating the crap out of someone for money. Deep in the human psyche, ingrained in our culture and genes, lies a primordial need to assert self-determination if not dominance — and survive. Inscrutable to the uninitiated, the precepts of taking a punch endure as a rite of passage, a hallowed touchstone of temperament and mettle. To understand the seduction and the acceptance of such violence, irrespective of meting out retribution, one must delve into the visceral experience of being hit — in the face.

When the fist collides with flesh, a bolt of lightning detonates behind the recipient’s eyeballs. The punch lands, the world spins like a carnival ride, and within a suspended fraction of time — getting “clocked” — the boundaries of ego vanish. Everything is one.

The moment of impact is an awakening. An astonished mind snaps to attention, a heightened state of consciousness. A cocktail of agony and adrenaline pours through the body. The shock radiates physically. Coruscating pinpricks of light come in syncopated bursts like the popping flash of paparazzi. The pain is a vortex, a familiar friend welcomed like a drowning man ultimately accepts the sea until, all in an instant, life’s transience, the fragility of existence, is cast into stark relief. It’s clear: you are alive! This is no time for a ten-count nap. Ding ding goes the bell.

Round two: Like an old oak, the thickly corded neck withstands a barrage of artillery; a howitzer right hook to the jaw connects. A taste of pennies bathes the tongue. The camera dramatizes what, too fast, escapes the naked eye: grimace, whiplash, a dynamic deformation of jowls freeze-framed. But that is a cliché. Comes a body blow, and the thud of a butcher’s mallet turns legs into concrete pillars sinking in mud. Thus a maelstrom of contusions is a humbling reminder of mortality. But the impetus to push past this…