[Trigger warning: physical abuse language, verbal abuse, mistreatment of kids and the disabled, racist and xenophobic attacks on victims]


We wished we could have brushed away the black bangs covering her eyes, before they taped her mouth, arms tied behind her back. Dirt Girl stood beautifully defiant at the scratch line, but we knew she would be forced to curr out.


The handling CFO walked over to ensure Dirt Girl was set. He yanked her zip ties a few times. Satisfied, he crossed the hay-covered floor. The audience’s faces were overpowered by the smell of alcohol and cash. The CFO accompanied his champion Z. to the pit. She was dressed in business casual—a gray jacket and wide-pant legs, black pumps and unmasked. It was a ploy and her right. Z. had a gameness good enough to breed.


The two stood facing each other in a make-shift ring, plywood boards walled up a fifteen-foot square. The men, women, and children started yawping like dogs for their contestant. The referee yelled, Go! and Z. charged straight into Dirt Girl.


Z. opened up with a jab, an obtuse ethnic guess at Dirt Girl, who knew better not to turn. Waving her fisted arm, Z. pivoted a round-kick of sexual expletives, scanning for any reaction. Dirt Girl knew too well what to expect.

  1. Yellers have no choice but to swing wide at ethnicity and gender.


But this time, Dirt Girl’s mouth was taped and masked; there would be no verbal defense. Z. continued to conjure slurs like an incantation; Dirt Girl refused to acknowledge her.


2. Yellers proceed to throw combos about not-good-enough and family, scanning for rejection in their opponent’s body language.


We dared not look into the night’s blind spots, afraid to expedite Z’s spells. We didn’t hope to wake a company of officers, another form of hell. The show would go on for hours, until someone’s immunity broke, until self-doubt became water strong enough to break rock. Losers ended up on the floor of the pit, turtled.



It was inevitable that Z. would be victorious or the show wouldn’t have been scheduled in the first place. As much as possible, the handling CFOs protected their investments. We had yet to learn that professional yellers, like Z., like Dirt Girl, were frequently spoiled and praised. As part of their training to increase their aggression, handlers inflated their sense of entitlement. Next, the pro yellers were starved of common luxuries: eyebrow laminations, an occasional negroni. Behind the scratch line with no accurate coffee order in hand, they morphed into sanctimonious headmen.


We were innocent, all but one of us—July—having survived our first roll. We should have harvested less words from guys who never met anyone like us before. To be home bickering with our siblings over dinner dishes or the remote, these scars we displayed among ourselves. Here the fights were more skewed than governments.


In our early days, our handlers would pit us against bait yellers. They would tie and mask up runaway kids or the mentally disabled and placed them in an enclosed space with one of us.


  1. Yellers often kicked weak spots at their opponent’s physique, their weight, the size of their tits, if they carried an ugly or common-looking face.


The handlers would blame them for low wages, high costs of medical insurance, profiling our families’ sufferings. They egged and whisked our wrath. Our disgust rained on tender shells. The baiters, like July, never knew what hit them.


With two nights of rest, Dirt Girl was afforded one more opportunity. Dirt Girl would be demoted to train or defeat July. We tried our best to avoid being losers in the lowest rank. We could hear them struggling, rounded up in darkness. We were never sure what became of them.


  1. At the first scent of self-doubt, professional yellers fast-mouth with an arsenal of humiliating, xenophobic claims causing damage to an organ or self-worth.



With Dirt Girl and July in their respective corners, we could almost imagine the hay-covered floor like the  countryside fields, rich as a late summer sunset. Three women and a couple hung around, die hard gamblers. To even the odds, Dirt Girl’s arms were bound, but not her mouth; July, stood shaking from the soon-to-be evening’s chill, warmed her upper arms with free hands, and stood unmasked for this event.


We weren’t sure if July had it in her: to not lose one last time. We weren’t sure if Dirt Girl, who seldom gave any of us advice except don’t let it in, would be merciful. Both girls mentally prepared, looking everywhere but beyond the scratch line. The CFO yelled, Go!


But neither girls took a step forward. The CFO waited a bit before reaching for his side weapon. July willed Dirt Girl to make eye contact. But she was looking down, toeing hay off her Nikes. Dirt Girl started to move. She planted her feet wide, stared directly at July, then the CFO. She looked around at the pathetic crowd, then glared at us with something like envy or love. Dirt Girl sighed, looked up at the warehouse ceiling and screamed, I am NOT a dog! 


July had everything she needed.





Shareen K. Murayama is a Japanese American, Okinawan American poet and educator. She has degrees from OSU-Cascades and the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. She’s a 2021 Best Microfiction winner as well as a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. She promotes students’ voices through a poetry club called the Po’ Heads, spends her days as a surfing poet, and her evenings with her dog named Squid. Her art is published or forthcoming in The Margins, MORIA, Juked, Bamboo Ridge, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. You can find her on IG & Twitter @ambusypoeming.