Mason– Dixon Lines poetry by Darn ell a rno ult 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 pay 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.
Southern Cultures – University of North Carolina Press
Published: May 30, 2015
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