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About this poet

Ralph Burns was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1949, and received an MFA from the University of Montana. He has published six books of poems: Ghost Notes (Oberlin College Press, 2001), winner of the Field Poetry Prize; Swamp Candles (1996); Mozart's Starling (1990); Any Given Day (1985); Windy Tuesday Nights (1984); and US (1983).

About his work, the poet Mark Jarman has said, "If Albert Camus wanted to know what was American in our poetry right now, what showed the breadth of our language and the honesty of its utterance, what was the best of American langue et parole, I'd show him Ralph Burns's poems."

Burns has published in many magazines including The Atlantic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, and Field. He has won a number of awards including the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Award for the Best First Book in Poetry, and received two fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

He edited Crazyhorse and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

And Leave Show Business?

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.

From Any Given Day, by Ralph Burns, published by University of Alabama Press. Copyright © 1994 by Ralph Burns. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From Any Given Day, by Ralph Burns, published by University of Alabama Press. Copyright © 1994 by Ralph Burns. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Ralph Burns

Ralph Burns

Ralph Burns was born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1949, and received an

by this poet

poem
He continues to ponder
	And his wife moves next to him.
She looks.  They look at themselves 
	Looking through the fog.
She has a meeting she says in about
	Thirty minutes, he has
Something too.  But still she has
	Just stepped out of the bath
And a single drop of water
	Has curved along her breast
Down her
poem
A man staring at a small lake sees
His father cast light line out over
The willows.  He's forgotten his 
Father has been dead for two years
And the lake is where a blue fog
Rolls, and the sky could be, if it
Were black or blue or white,
The backdrop of all attention.

He wades out to join the father,
Following
poem

1

Flap, flap went the mind of the bird
Who flew out of my grandmother's attic
Like heat in the creases
Where air used to be.  One week
Of summer was all that house
Could take of my brother and me.

			Years later,
After she died, someone, my aunt I
Think, arranged for her to be driven