We met Bill the Elephant man
backstage, amid the straw-covered concrete floor
and the preshow shouting. Bill took us
out for burgers and told us about his babies,
two large, gray creatures that you couldn't fully see
up close. But from far away you couldn't see
the wrinkles in their skin, the maps of their lives that
trace all of the way back to Africa and Asia.
Bill was good to his pseudo-children,
elephants, they were well fed and
happy. He never spoke of the people that we met
later, the two skinny daughters that rode
the creatures and the sons that guided
them around the arena before the show. When he talked
at them, his eyes didn't sparkle like
they did when he looked at his babies.
After the show, Bill gave us simple knots made out of
elephant hair. He said it was for luck and he
tied them around our wrists while his children looked up from
where they were shoveling hay and we looked down at
his daughter's bare wrists. The elephants curled their
trunks around the daughter's shoulders and
hugged them, rocking back and forth, swaying
in a breeze of their own creation.
Later, when the lights had faded from our vision
and the imprint of mapped skin stayed in our
memories, we still saw the large eyes. Bill had
said that their eyes were full of compassion
and apologies, but he didn't know who
they were apologizing to. We knew,
just like we knew that the daughters and sons
didn't blame the creatures that were so far from home.