Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You remember the man

Digging through family photographs, I found a photograph of my grandfather before my mother was born. He stands with a friend in front of poster of wrestler Maurice Tillet--the man who many claim as the inspiration behind Shrek. After researching Tillet, I wrote a poem about him.

Frenchmen can be happy about everything
Credit: thehumanmarvels.com

but sad only for love.

to French parents,
a freak,
in the Russian Urals,
a physical question mark,
Maurice Tillet,
speaker of five languages,
laughed at by children
who called him La Singe,
the monkey,
laughed at by audiences
who know him as Shrek.

sadness overwhelmed him, 
so he ran to the sea
to reinvent his life on the water,
where sailors, too frightened by sea monsters,
kamizee pilots,

do not care what you are.

Credit: thehumanmarvels.com
from the incurable acromegaly,
no sailors spoke to the face which never smiled,
no sailor argued with Tillet,
gunner on a French destroyer,
honorably discharged,
and hired to frighten children 
away from Paris movie houses.

by an American promoter chasing the money,
the French Angel,
with hands as big as plates,
hid from daylight 
in hotel rooms and movie theaters,
for wandering the streets caused riots
and fainting women,
because his bones thickened and misshaped 
a good man into the grotesque.

to return and fight for France,
when Hitler marched through mountains,
the Ugliest Man in the World,
rejected by the U.S. Navy,
rejected by his homeland,
would never fight for either.

Family photo: my grandfather on the right.

a woman would see his face,
never know him,
and only desire his money,
The Angel,
never to marry,
turned over large sums 
to the French Red Cross,
visited VA hospitals,
filled a library in San Francisco
and read every book.

by a U.S. senator,
to fight a U.S. senator for the world title,
to prove that wrestling was not fake, 
not a sham,
not an organized racket,
The Angel turned the other cheek.

to strip in the ring
to share his horrible misfortune,
to become a misshapen specimen of manhood,
Tillet earned $100,000 in one year
to be laughed at,
and shamed.

by grown men escorting women,
Tillet made his peace with it,
found happiness in life,
speaking and eating painfully slow,
supporting twenty French war orphans,
for their entire lives,
and living his own full life,
by taking what he was given,
and turning it into a positive.

by those who knew him,
by those who saw beyond the skin,
as a warm, friendly man,
with intellect and compassion.

by those who knew him,
by those who saw beyond the skin,
as one of those rare souls
you no longer remember because of appearance.

You remember the man.


  1. Wow! Such a sad story about a really interesting man.

  2. Never knew so much of that history! Thought-provoking and beautifully written.

  3. I love where the photo took you! Glad I stopped by! Your words were more telling than a story.

  4. Love love love your ending. Don't remember the appearance, but instead the personality. Remember the man. Very powerful and well done!

  5. Dear Mr. Kelley,
    I have never heard of this man, but I have seen the movie Shrek. It is so sad how mean people were to him.
    Your poem in sparse short sentences drew a complete picture of the pain of his life and the joy he found in his few friends.
    Yes, you remember the man.

  6. Love the strong verb to begin each stanza. Such powerful writing! And, how you brought this all from isolated details into the big idea at the end --- superb. Thanks so sharing! b

  7. Very strong poem, and well done. Brian, my name is Tom, and it is clear to me you have something very special there. I can tell that you did your research on Maurice, and eventually found my site to in order to create the poem, http://deathmaskofmauricetillet-theangel.blogspot.com/2012/10/everything-maurice-tillet-french-angel.html. Thank you for your research, understanding, and sensitivity. Maurice was amazing, and continues to represent goodness in this world. If you would be willing, I would like to add a good copy of your picture you have there to my site so that it can get a wider audience. It's a fantastic picture. Please contact me at thefrenchangeldeathmask@gmail.com