The Gorilla Story

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The Gorilla Story

by Darnell Arnoult
Southern Cultures, Vol. 21, No. 2: Summer 2015

"Daddy wore a coat and tie when he wasn't playing golf— even to fight gorillas . . ."

Around ten, the phone rang. We were all in bed. I was two.
“Joe,” he heard the voice slur, “There’s a fellow with a gorilla

down here. Says he’ll play a hundred bucks to anybody
who goes five minutes with his monkey and walks out

under his own steam.” Daddy said, “Where is he?”
into the black receiver, heavy enough itself to be a weapon.

Between bed and the bazaar, he drank a fifth of liquor
and then had to pay fifty cents more to be foolish.

Daddy wore a coat and tie when he wasn’t playing golf
even to fight gorillas. The gorilla caught him

by the necktie. Dragged him through peanut hulls,
banana peels, slides of excrement, then tossed Daddy

to the back of the cage and rattled the bars
to scare onlookers and earn his pay. But Daddy

came to and leaped onto the gorilla’s back and grabbed
the bars just beyond all that hair and muscle. Pinned him

to his own cage. Daddy held on until he walked out under his own steam.
He held out his hand for the hundred, but the carney wasn’t having it.

“You had an illegal hold on my gorilla!” the man barked.
“How,” my daddy asked from that night until the day he died,

“can a man have an illegal hold on something with four hands?
Forty years later, I met a boxing chimpanzee named Congo,

a champion in ’57. He’d retired to Tarpon Springs. Someone wrote a book
about him, The Gorilla Show. I have this poem. He outlived Daddy

by at least twenty years. Congo never talked about that night in Martinsville,
ashamed to have been beaten. Not even to me. My daddy on the other hand

won years of telling this story. He taught me to tell it, that it’s a story
worth tellingworth believingeven with no proof but the story itself.