Once Ed Poe saw the results and the audience John Irving drew in the MMA octagon, he started talking.
On the Hemingway fight: “The man was good with a pencil, his fists, and a gun. From the looks of it Ernest killed every animal known to man, then killed himself. I don’t know how he lost to Irving. There should be a review to see if cheating occurred.”
On the Kesey fight: “Was it a fight? Did I miss it? Kesey said he’d pound Irving all day long. Irving said he could take any beating. I want my turn.”
On the Melville fight: “What did Irving learn from Kesey? How to talk your way out of a fight. He can talk all he wants, but I’m going to get a piece of him. Mark my words. Besides, he and Herman are friends. Friends shouldn’t beat on friends.”
Once John Irving heard the challenge from Edgar Allan Poe, he went into intense training. This was one opponent he wouldn’t let slip away.
The only condition for the fight was it had to happen in Baltimore. Specifically, at The Castle, the Baltimore Ravens training facility. Once the date was set, Irving got ready, made the trip, and messed up Poe’s hair-do.
Afterward, they made amends, sort of.
“The rules say you can’t drop a knee to a man’s head when he’s down,” Poe said. He had ice bags on every part of his body.
“You tripped me, Al. You tripped me and I fell. Accidents come into play. A trip is an accident. It didn’t change the outcome.”
Irving combed his hair, getting ready for a party night in Baltimore.
“I came down here because you ran your mouth, Al. We didn’t have to fight, but you wouldn’t let it go.”
“You can call me Ed, or Edgar. No one calls me Al.”
Poe looked at himself in the mirror. “To be honest, John, I didn’t think you were paying attention. I figured you were too busy promoting ‘Last Night In Crooked River.”
“It’s called Last Night In Twisted River. You know the name and that’s why I came here, to see if I could pound some sense into you. How did it go?”
“Next time send a letter or an email. You can text me. I didn’t need Morse Code’s dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot bouncing off my head. I think it’s swollen,” Poe said.
“SOS is a way to get you to tap-out, my friend. And you did.”
“Your triangle was sneaky.”
“I bring my best to the octagon, Al. You need to keep up.”
“It’s Ed. I trained to face a wrestler, John. You’re a writing wrestler. That’s your thing. Nothing about a writing Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu guy.”
Poe swung his shoulder in a circle that didn’t go all the way around. “This went all the way around yesterday.”
“In judo you’d call it Sankaku-Jime. Don’t get into the octagon unless you know what you’re doing,” Irving warned.
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Didn’t look like it, Al.”
“I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it to you, ‘All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.'”
“So you’ve seen Inception? Seems right up your alley.”
“I like that DiCaprio kid. At least now I don’t get him confused with Jody Foster.”
“Neither does anyone else. You fought like you were in a dream, Al.”
“It’s Ed or Edgar, Irving.”
“Like Ed Reed? I’ll write it down.”
“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.”
“I’ll do that, Al.”
Poe got up for more ice and took his time coming back.
“Irving, I know it’s hard on you just being here. Okay, you took it to me. I tapped out. You won. But that doesn’t change things. I invented detective fiction. I started science fiction. You can count the number of true short stories on one hand before me. It’s tough being the master story-teller of your era, like you, and not get as much credit as I do,” he said.
“I’ve got things figured out well enough,” Irving said.
“That’s good. Which NFL Super Bowl winning team is named after one of your stories? Huh? Or anyone else’s story.”
“Okay, Ed. The Ravens are your team, but they used to be Cleveland’s Browns. Your team’s in Indy. Don’t let that get in the way.”
“I paved the road for the likes of you. If I hadn’t started the markets for professional writers, where would you be?”
“If you hadn’t married your thirteen year old cousin like Jerry Lee Lewis, where would you be?”
“Probably writing Country Western songs, but that’s beside the point. Besides, his cousin was fourteen. There are few cases in which mere popularity should be considered a proper test of merit; but the case of song-writing is, I think, one of the few. Jerry Lee copied me.”
John Irving stood up with his gym bag. “I can see my efforts are in vain. I could fight you with a two by four and you’d still be as goofy.”
“Try and remember, Irving, ‘To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness.'”
“We settled it on the octagon, Poe. That’s enough for anyone. You ought to know that,” John Irving said.
“And you ought to know this, Hawkeye, as good as you are or will ever be, you can’t spell poetry without P-O-E. Do you hear me, Irving? Do you hear this:
`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
“That’s rap, Irving. I also invented rap. Top that if you think you can. Stand up to the little man.”
John Irving left The Castle and the broken man muttering to himself in the dressing room.
“These romantic writers need to get in better shape. Lay off the moon-tan and get outside more often. How do I explain this to Kesey?”
A screaming voice came from behind the door he shut.
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night, Irving. Do you hear me? I’ll remember this. Yes, I will. I’m talking to you. This isn’t over. It’s never over,” Poe said.
John Irving embraced the the Baltimore night alone.
“No wonder he never made it past 40,” he said to himself.