Thursday, March 06, 2008

To Help the Monkey Cross the River

[Making the jump from one job to another I'm cheating with my blog. Like TV. Re-runs, you know. This is from April 22, 2006. Someone found it with a Google search and as usual, I had forgotten it altogether. It's still great fun.]

Okay, then.
I live in the Atlanta area and listen to NPR as I drive to and from work. [This is about to end. My new job is six minutes from the driveway if I don't stop for gas.]

Poetry blogging. (Which I don't do much...)
Valerie Jackson, widow of the former mayor, hosts a literate program, Between the Lines, during which she interviews recently-published authors of all genres. Unlike many media types who would lead you to believe they are smarter than they are, she (like S-SPAN's Brian Lamb, by the way) has actually READ the material whe is discussing and done her homework about the writer.

Two nights ago I was listening (MP3 LINK) as she interviewed four local writers, poets, none of whom I knew (which certainly reflects worse on me than any of them) when I heard this delightful poem, read by the author, Thomas Lux. Not often, but occasionally, I laugh out loud as I drive alone. This was one such moment. It took some digging, but I found it on line. Time allowing, let yorself listen to the writer himself. It's a long program and without universal appeal, but I found it excellent. Penance, you think, for ignorance? This poem is toward the last quarter of the program if you want to cheat and drag the pin forward. (Minute 42)

To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

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