And Leave Show Business? - Poem by Ralph Burns
This elephant keeper shoved a hose up
The ass of an elephant every day. He
Told a man. The man said, So why don't
You quit? And the keeper said, You have
To understand: elephant bowels are fragile,
You only spray a little and shit flies
All over. . . .And the man said, I understand,
I think, someone has to, but why don't you
Quit?And the keeper said, And leave show
Business?I don't know who first told me,
You'll die someday, you can't live forever.
I don't know who took my hand and said,
Some things, not all things, are possible.
At a state mental hospital where I work
I asked a patient once what he remembered.
Everything. Everything that ever happened.
Thinking back, incompletely, I think
I must've disbelieved his ease, his willingness
To witness all his loss always, so I asked,
Just having heard the stupid elephant hoke:
Anything about elephants? pets?He had a dog:
Bean, Bingo, something like that. And he walked
Him every day on a leash and they bought
A hamburger every day on South Harrison
Or North Harrison, somewhere in Shelbyville.
I asked where the dog was. He said he loved
Him so much he'd drink out of the river
And the dog would too, he loved him
So much. I have to admit I had to say
Something and of course there was nothing
To say. His head was down as he drank.
The water was sweet. Easily I left him
Alone to walk myself out of the river
Of sense. I remember riding shotgun
In a truck with my Uncle Ralph across flat
Kansas. He said something. I said, Really?
And he said, Hell yes boy, do you think
I'd lie? Why do you always say really?
And I didn't know, God help me, I don't
Know. He was my uncle. He wouldn't lie.
Truth is I hadn't been listening,
But watching the long rows pass my window,
I was busy being elephant keeper
And elephant, the hose inside, the dog
That drank with a man, and the river, where
Everything is equal, is possible, where
I knew I'd die someday and live without
Sight or sound or touch, possibly forever.
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