he was told.
He lay down on
the rubbing table, his head to the wall. One of the young interns leaned
forward and brashly asked what he was thinking at that instant.
Ali began his
litany. He said he was thinking about the people in Japan and Turkey and
Russia, all over the world, how they were beginning to think about the fight,
and about him, and the television sets being clicked on, and the traffic jams
in front of the closed-circuit theaters, and how the big TV trucks out in back
of the Atlanta arena, just by the stage door, were getting their machinery
warmed up to send his image by satellite to all those people, and how he was
going to dance for them—"I got to dance," he said—all this in the soft,
silky voice he uses when he does this sort of thing, almost the voice of a
mother soothing her child to sleep with nursery rhymes.
"How about a
verse?" the intern asked.
sorry," Ali said.
The intern was
delighted. "Hey, that's pretty short," he said. "How about
"I don't have
time to find a rhyme," Ali replied gently, and he went on with his
thoughts, how finally he was thinking most of all of Allah, his God, the
Almighty Allah who had given him so many gifts. He began to enumerate them in
his singsong voice—a long, free-verse ode to carrot juice, to honey, to the
things that grew in his garden and that he ate, never anything man-made that
came in cans, none of that stuff, but only what came fresh from the gardens,
and then the woods in which he would run before the "cars were up" and
their "poison," and he talked about how he would face East and thank
the Creator for all of this, which had given him the strength to live right and
to pray right. And he said that thinking of all that the Creator had done made
it simple for him to look at Quarry and see how little he was, and how easy he
could be whupped.
It was an odd
sensation to watch this—Ali pumping himself up, the final instants of fueling a
vehicle that within minutes would touch off—like watching an Antaeus derive his
strength from the ground.
concluded, Ali swung his feet to the floor and stood up. Fifteen minutes were
left. Sarria applied a smear of Vaseline to the fighter's shoulders and started
rubbing it into his torso. His body began to shine. A policeman stuck his head
in, and the crowd noise, roaring at the entrance of some celebrity, swept in
for an instant and made the blood pound before it was shut off by the door
waitin' for me to dance," Ali said. His feet were shuffling. Jesse Jackson
put up a hand as a target and Ali popped a few jabs, snorting his sharp
exhalations, and then he stopped and looked at himself in the mirror. "The
Temptations are out there," he said. "The Supremes are out there.
Sidney Poitier's out there."