"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 telling—worth believing—even with no proof but the story itself.