The following poem was inspired by a 1990 trip through East Africa with my old friend Kyle Foster. It is about evolution, survival of the fittest, the imperfections of nature, human error, global warming, and politics. A contributing incident happened while I was sitting in my woodland home in the Pacific Northwest and watching a squirrel take a daring leap for a distant branch. It missed. Like many I had always assumed that these guys were perfect… No one is perfect.
As we stood outside the Amboseli Game Park in 1990, from where the iconic pictures of Mount Kilimanjaro were taken, the effects of global warming were already apparent. The snow-capped peak, covered by glaciers for centuries (even though the mountain is located near the equator) were receding dramatically.
There is no mercy in the bush
To some, monkeys are meat,
And for all the steps they’ve taken,
All their cuteness,
And the fact they’ve risen in some way from muteness,
And been formed to fit their world,
The tail’s curl
And monkeys fall.
Gravity cannot be bought off
And maybe monkeys do not have thoughts of
Defeating or defying it.
They’ve risen on the ladder made
Through so called random changes
And accidents and rearranges
To something almost at our level
And though we don’t believe that they possess
Something as clever as our devil,
Still, for all their wits,
They sometimes slip
And monkeys fall.
We as a species have acquired
Survival techniques and witty
wire-guided missiles to enforce our will
And words we twist as we choose, but still,
Learning languages requires
The ability to listen
And men with a knack for lies,
Still play dumb,
And coupling with women
They have tried to train to simper,
The thought of higher rungs goes numb
In spite of opposable thumbs
In short, we’ve risen to a height
Where our odds are thin and worn out
And we loose accidents upon the world
Nature would not have thought of.
The next branch or rung
Shimmers in a heat that’s redesigning
Our world and we no longer know
Why or where we’re climbing.
We’ve surrendered most of our sense
(surely our good) to whims of governments
And we mostly live in houses
Insulated from our man-made weathers
Or for pleasure, on our weekends, tents.
That’s how this came home to me
By a broken fence in Amboseli
In the Great Rift Valley where we all traipsed
One rung upward from the apes.
Where one dawn a monkey family
Regaled themselves on grubs and fruits
In the afternoon the light paled
The eagles came to roost
And the monkeys were by us no more seen
But blue flies in a stream
Made traffic to a place…
I walked there and found
Flesh in strands,
The bloody spoor of eagles,
The hum of flies, a monkey’s face
And a monkey’s empty hands.
The eagles lifted heavily and called
And I learned another one of all the many ways
That monkeys fall.
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