Radical Primaticism

Our body itself is the palmary instance of the ambiguous.

- William James

Jungle cries, echoes
From the bone dry gulch
Of Olduvai:

Monkey business, the ancient
Ancestor, hominid, old Homo
Erectus, not yet sapient, that
Little bitty skull, dragging
His bloody knuckles across
The rocky shale, or her knuckles,
Old mother, and all around them,
Them, OUK OUK, a regular
Barrelful of monkeys,
Only they ain’t got no barrels,

The old ape in us, hair
Bristling on the back
Of the neck, that sudden
Burst of rage, uncalled for,
Unexpected KREEGAH!!
Display, the pounded chest,
Barrel chest, THUMP, THUMP,
Swollen forehead vein,
Bared teeth, those teeth,
Grinders, fangs, stained
Choppers of the omnivore.

Or even worse, the brooding
Silence, poor monkey,
Monkey see, monkey
Stare unseeing,
Bored out of his gourd
Old chimp, jacking off
All the livelong day after day,
Whacking his meat,
But never learned to cook
His meat, chews it raw,
Sad fireless monkey,
Poor old ape, look what
He’s growing up to be.

You may, if you will, shame
The caged chimp,
Smart as a whip but got
No swollen frontal lobes,
Wrong kind of thumb,
Improper opposition,
No elegant tunes to be picked
Out on the clavier by him
Just look at those feet,
They’re only twisted
Angry hands, but before
You get too smug
Consider this:

What’s the ugliest part of your body?
Asked an ad in an old magazine
That made apish men chortle,
Jungle cries, sure enough,
But the answer was, my friends,
Your feet!

But not your feet, not your feet at all,
So delicately formed,
Surprisingly lovely, in one
So slim and tall.

And consider this:
In California, Koko
And Ndume, signing
Their lives away, their clever
Hands, fingers flying,
Such questions, such answers,
Always looking out for
The nearest Coke® machine.

And Michael, RIP, so sensitive, the artist,
Saw his mother poached and killed,
Gorilla brother, died so young,
His pictures on the wall.

And consider this:
Washoe, she of “baby
In my cup,” once ran away,
Climbed a tall tree and signed
The worst word she knew,
Long dangling fingers waggling
Underneath her chinny chin chin:

Dirty indeed, our sister chimp,
The things we do, the things we
Do: those Asian dinners
With a course of live monkey
Brains (that are thinking
Which thoughts as the spoon
Digs in?); monkeys in the zoo,
Fixing each other’s hair,
Scratch, scratch;
Gorillas in Berlin watching
Their favorite TV shows–
Kissing scenes and auto
Racing always pleases them,
Kissing, kissing and fast cars,
How closely akin; Barbary
Apes at Gibraltar, holding
An empire on their backs;
Poor spider monkeys lost
In space; the hurdy-gurdy monk
With his flat red hat; sacred Punjabi
Temple monkeys, snatching
Purses, knicking lunches, dragged
Off to monkey gaol; the wily chimp
At the Washington Zoo who lured
My dad up close and PATOOEY
Spat at him.

Better than the diarrheic hippo
Who raised his rosy rump up
Out of the sluggish water
And let fly at the gawking,
Ducking crowd.

But better for whom?

Santino the Swedish chimp,
Planning ahead,
Calmly stockpiling stones
In the corner of his cage
To zing them at noonday
Visitors in a “hailstorm”
Of rocks and concrete chips,
Hjälp! Hjälp!

Tortured lab monkeys, our
First cousins, therefore very
Useful (“Here, Cheetah, have
A smoke.”), like our other
More distant cousins,
Cats, stacked up in boxes
And vacuum packed
So lazy sophomores (not bright
Enough for Physics) can carve
Them up for two academic credits.

But not my Sheena, already burnt
To ash and safely tucked away
In a red velvet pouch.
I miss her so
(You do not know).

Or think of the great Irish poet,
William Butler Yeats
And his monkey glands,
Requiring what ape
To become a ragged sack
Of bones so that Willie
Could get his willy up again.

A terrible beauty was born.

Or answer me this:
Why did Hitler, yes,
Sentimental Adolf
Who was bedridden for days
With inconsolable grief
When his caged canary died,
Why did he, the fucking Führer,
Order, in October 1941,
The import of 1,000 rhesus monkeys?

And a “troop” of Barbary apes?

To plant them on Gibraltar,
A hirsute fifth column, injected
With an infectious depilatory
To strip the Brits of their apish pride
In the way the CIA were later
To have a go with Castro’s beard?

To do a little testing, a little tattooing,
A little vivisection, a little dental work,
Dr. Moreau, Dr. Renault, Dr. Mengele,
Maybe a gulp or two of poison gas
(You know why), or maybe,
Just maybe, just maybe,
Just for fun?

You tell me.

And now we must consider,
Those cinematic movie
Chimps, riding their motorcycles,
Or facing off with each other
In their little cowboy suits,
Grinning and doing back flips,
Trying so hard to catch Tarzan’s
Eye with Jane in distress and
All the while biting the naked
Ape that played the lead
Whenever they got the chance
(Ain’t that just Hollywood
For ya?), or leaping with ferocity
On the scared stuntman in the
Gorilla suit (voice squeaking
Out of the gorilla’s permanently
Gaping mouth, “Get this fucking
Monkey off my back!”), oh yes,
We’ve come so fucking far
Up that old evolutionary ladder,
Uh huh, OUK OUK.

All those monkeys
In that infinite philosophical
Puzzle, typing, typing, typing,
To be or nix to be, to be
Or mxyzptlk, to be . . .

Even the orange orangutan,
Dweller in the waving limbs
Of the very highest treetops,
Hanging on, harkening to
The din of axes far below,
Or, if captured, disassembler
Of all zoo cages, made to wave
(By Edgar Poe, who knew his cats,
Too, oh yes) a bloody razor, shove
The headless body up the chimney
Flue, or (What do you think
The orang thought of this?) tumble
On the beach in erotic foreplay
With none other than Bo herself
(Did he think she was a ten?),
Or, for that matter, ride around
With old Clint, not so old then,
In a freaking pickup truck.

The things we freaking do.

The naked ape that kills
And eats and eats and kills,
That eats and fucks and kills
And kills and kills, that’s our
Natural sobriquet:

And we do eat, drink,
Solve problems, make
Decisions, speculate,
Theorize, economize,
Hit golf balls on the moon,
Run red lights, pick up
Hitchhikers or pass them by,
Scrimp, save, sacrifice
For others, care, love,
Hold each other close,
So close, roll over in sweet
Clover, make long love
All afternoon, all night,
Make war, make peace,
Bomb cities, bomb towns,
Cathedrals, villages,
Bridges, dams, roads, streets,
Temples, the homes of saints,
Masturbate, fuck,
Procreate, pray, prey,
Sacrifice, and kill, and save,
And kill and kill and kill,
Oh baby, just monkeying around.

Not you and I, we’re not the killing kind.
But do poets ever kill? Oh yes, ourselves,
Each other, the stranger on the street.
We’re dirty bastards, too, but we do try,
Don’t we? We try, but even a poet, now
And then, has a bad day.

Our shadowy anthropoid
Ancestor, mpungu, haunts
Our waking dreams or those
That wake us in the middle
Of a peaceful night. The primeval
Beast of Cainsmarsh that cast
Old Herbert Wells into depression
At the very thought—“no ease,
No security, no comfort
Any more,” mind really
At the end of its tether—of that
Hairy face peering up not only
From the dim dim past but back, too,
From the shape of things to come.
Just as that same shaggy ancestor,
Dragging his cartoonish club
In one hand and his wife by her hair
In the other, drives desperate evangelicals
To screaming, apelike rage
(The telltale mirror, to them, those eyes,
That brow, that grin, a dreadful
Thing to see, KREEGAH, AIEEEE!)

The scream, the pounded chest,
The bristled spine, advance,
Retreat, KREEGAH,

Holding our ugly signs aloft,
Screaming at the crowd
Holding their ugly signs up,
KREEGAH, across the way.

Dogs straining on the leash,
Fire hoses, knouts, billy clubs,
Lashes, lances, fire hoses,
Rubber bullets, real bullets,
Golf balls with nails embedded,
Sticks and fucking stones.

The reddened face, the teeth,
The tears of rage, the screams,
And our great gift, gift, some say,
Of the gods, of God, the word,
Words that, some say,
Separate us from the beast(s):
You motherfucking shitlicking
Cocksucking goddam son of a
(Sputtering fucking rage) bitch!
Oh yes, display.

Trained carnival show chimps,
Caged in a sixteen-wheeler
With sides that can be raised,
Beating the absolute shit out of dumb
Men, maybe a little drunk, chumps
Who were offered fifty bucks
If they could beat the chimp
Or even stay in the cage with him
For a specified while (the owner’s
Hands, with only six and one half
Fingers between them, counting
Those two opposing thumbs),
And the way the old chimp
Would size you up, rip off
The safety helmet you were
Told to wear, and beat the crap
Out of you with that, too.

No I didn’t fight the chimp or even try,
But I watched, I paid my buck
And closely watched. I did.

Tears of rage:
Is there no limit to what
Hurt we will inflict?
Is there no limit?
Is there no limit?
Babi Yar, Katyn, Abu
Ghraib, Van, Darfur,
Wounded Knee,
Berwick, Gatumba,
Messolonghi, Medina,
Mountain Meadows,
Wolstenholme Towne,
Rosewood, My Lai,
Myanmar, Phnom Penh,
Malmedy, and worse
(You know the worst)
And worse and worse
And worse.


Tears of rage:
Is there no limit to what
Hurt we will inflict?
Is there no limit?
Is there no limit?
Janjaweed, Danite
Band, IRA, KKK,
SLA, Sombra Negra,
Sendero Luminoso,
Hóng Wèi Bīng,
SAVAK, Hashshāshīn,
Al-Qaida, Brigate
Rosse, Khmer Rouge,
Lohamei Herut Israel,
Mau Mau, and worse
(You know the worst)
And worse and worse.

What keeps a man alive?
He lives on others.

Jane Goodall’s friends,
The wild chimpanzees:
Timid Olly, Mr. McGregor,
Spiteful Melissa who harbored
Grudges, crusty J.B., rugged
But gentle Leakey (Olduvai
Homage), David Greybeard,
Flo and her kids–baby Flint,
Young Fifi, and teenaged Figan,
So gentle, huddled together
Quietly near the nearby stream,
Cracking nuts with appropriate
Stones, with appropriate care,
Not quarreling when siblings
Take a share, consoling one
Another in grief, or pain, or loss,
There, there.

Jane Goodall’s nightmare,
The wild chimpanzees:
The Four-Year War,
Drumming on hollow trees,
Biting off fingers, toes,
Pounding with appropriate
Stones, appropriate spears,
Chimpanzee war
In Gombe, that one awful
Female, so intent, chewing,
Chewing, chewing
The oh so tender flesh
Of that baby chimp.
Muncher, muncher.
There, there.

Our cousins:
Gorillas, Gorilla gorilla,
Gorilla beringei,
High flying orangutans,
Pongo pygmaeus,
And monkeys,
Monkeys, monkeys,
More monkeys
Than you could fit in a barrel,
A hogshead, a firkin,
A butt, or even a tun.

Our closest cousins,
Sharing 98.7% of our genomes,
Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes,
Gentle most of the time,
Making tools for feeding,
Only bored and crazy in the zoo,
Roving in tribes, babies
On the back, eating berries
Or tacticians, moving silently,
Decoy, distraction, circling
Like Hannibal at Cannae,
Jackson at Chancellorsville,
Rommel in the desert,
Surprise, enfilade,
Attack, attack, attack,
And monkey for dinner,
Chewing and chewing.

And chimps hunted by men
For bushmeat, more men
Than chimps, many more,
Chewing, chewing.

Our closest cousins,
Sharing 98.7% of our genomes,
Bonobos, Pan paniscus,
The so-called hippie apes,
Peter Pans in Everland,
Never grow up, kids
Killing only time, gentle
All the time (unless you
Grab ‘em), sharing food
With each other, with
Strangers, “make love
Not war,” tongue kissing
In the wild, in the zoo,
And screwing, too, having
Discovered on their very own
The missionary position
Without the intervention
Of one single missionary,
Male on female, female
On female, stroking and stroking,
Petting and petting,
Rubbing and rubbing,
Fucking and fucking.

And we, so close to both,
No shock, then, to find ourselves
In such a fix, in such a bind,
Fight or flight, good ape,
Bad ape, the naked wonder.




A question for you:
What was it that awaited
Virgins who died unwed,
For centuries were said
To lead apes in hell,
To be harassed forever
By boorish apish behavior
Like those village women
In Kenya recently taunted
By vervet monkeys,
Grabbing their hairy little breasts,
OUK OUK, and pointing at
Their little bitty, OUK OUK,
Pink pricks?

“Admitting that the whole
Of a monkey is disgraceful,”
Reads a medieval bestiary,
“Yet their bottoms really are
Excessively disgraceful
And horrible.”

By the way, what is
The ugliest part of your body?

And yet, there are the mysterious,
Elusive, quick, private,
Almost unknown, unseen,
Shadowy bonobos
Flitting through trees,
Through thick jungle bush
On the south bank
Of the Congo.

And in the Congo,
“Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM,”
120,000 lowland gorillas
Graze silently, always ready
To disappear again in an instant
In order one day to appear again.

O where is my wandering daughter,
Among the gleaners in the fields
Or in the lowland forests
With these gentle beings?

The poem of the apes
Is a poem of muscle, all
That blood from the brain
Drained to sinewy leg
And arm, gripping hand
And clever foot, stanzas of leap,
Stanzas of swing, stanzas
Of soar, stanzas, too,
Of wild careen.

Or the gibbon’s eager poem
Of teetering delight,
On the end of a tall tree limb,
Her long arms spread in anticipation
Of her mate’s hurrying, busy,
Rustling return.

Perhaps in Mogodoro
On a dusty road filled
With small monkeys,
“Those little rascals”?

Then there are those newly found
Missing links, the little ones,
Barely four feet tall. Are they
Our grandparents or did
Our grandparents—just try to count
The generations in between—kill
Or maybe eat them all?

Or were they just another
Missing missing link,
Perhaps no missing link at all,
Like our other grandparents,
The artistic Neanderthal?

Were they happy in the trees
Or walking slowly erect
From glade to glowing glade?

Or were they, too, afraid?

And what is it that we fear?

Koko in her safe sanctuary
Fears the crocodile,
Even a small rubber toy
Shaped like the crocodile,
Fears it in the bone,
Fears it in the blood,
Fears it in the mind.

What do we fear?


What do we fear?


Fear it in the bone,
Fear it in the blood,
Fear it in the mind.

What do we fear?

Betrayal, exile,
Massacre and torture,
The river running
With flesh, with blood,
The cold shudder,
The cold shoulder,
Closed shutter,
Empty shelter,
The serpent’s tooth,
Enislement, isolation,
These people, those people,
The serpent’s hiss
That whispers
In the dead of night,
To our eager open ears.

What do we fear?


It all comes down
Like dishes crashing
In the dark, cracked
Crockery all over
The polished floor.

The noise fills our ears,
As Joseph Conrad put it,
Like “a tribe of monkeys,
That insulting hullabaloo.”

And that long flat space,
Distant, silent, drab,
Without boundaries,
Without doors, without
Windows, that empty
Space from which we
Watch the world
But do not enter in,
Detached, alone,
Lonely, and afraid:


And yet, and yet,
Swinging lightly among
Broad cool green leaves,
After a soaking rain,
Patter and splatter,
A tribe of monkeys
Chatters like birds
In early spring,
A choral poetry
Of hullabaloo.

What do we fear?

Is it what
We most desire
(Afraid to have it
Or to hold it near)?

What do we fear?

The stumble, the stagger,
The tumble, the fall,
That which is the case.

Ecology of the Day:
Buzzing, blooming,
Vines that wrap and smother
The tree, limb that cracks
And falls, crisscross
Of passing birds, swirl
Of butterflies, hawk’s
Deadly dart, swollen
Carcass of the deer,
Bear’s lumber, crow’s
Beckoning cry, crash
Of waves on the shore,
Teeming deeps, jungles,
OUK OUK, deserts,
Oases, mirages,
Crash of colors on the eye,
Spectra, sun’s dazzle,
Transit of Venus,
Round on round and round,
Water, fire, earth, and air,
Such confusion, such
Assault, such chaotic
Order, part and apart.

Ecology of the Night:
Owl’s hoot, swift swoop,
Vole’s skittered squeal,
Skunk and opossum,
Clawed feral cat, small
Things that move and shuffle,
Moon’s transformations,
Apparent, transparent,
Shadows that shift
Or disappear, a filter
Of fireflies, shimmers
Of distant lightning,
Whisper of leaves,
Silence of snow, punched
Tracks, rabbit’s flurried
Flight, coyote’s paw,
How busy the night,
How lonely the night,
That startled 3:00 AM
Waking, absence,
Presence, alive, alone,
Alive, alone, alone.

Ecology of the Body:
In a balanced, healthy
State, 10,000 species
Of microbes in and on
Us, each one of us,
Separate, lonely,
But never alone,
Skin and bubbling gut,
Stiff bone, taut tendon,
Erectile tissue, oozing
Organ, bladder and liver,
Kidney and kidney,
Seeing eye, straining ear,
And busy busy brain,
Each of us, each one,
An entire ecosystem,
Swarming with pounds
Yes, several pounds
Of lively bacteria, fungi,
Mitochondrial organelles,
Together, all together,
United as one until
The final parting of the ways,
Final abandonment, final
Bulging, seething feast
Of autocannibalism,
That final obscenity.

Ecology of the Mind:
Not brain, whether
Connected, disconnected.
Interconnected, not brain,
Atop the brain (Descartes),
Perhaps below, intertwined,
Brain as organ of the mind
(Luria’s conjecture),
Mind that observes, perceives,
Accumulates, assimilates,
Organizes, ideates,
Conceives, shapes form
And forms, formulates,
Formalizes, hypothesizes,
Mythologizes, theorizes,
Believes, achieves certainty,
Knows, knows, knows,
Only then to doubt, only
Then to disbelieve, only then
To give in, submit to inertia,
The solitary confinement
Of the tethered mind, alone
To commit the unforgivable sin,
Alone to despair, alone
To undergo the ultimate
Abandonment, alone.

What then is left for us to do
In this ecology of confusion,
This mental mess, this
Feeding on the inner self,
This thought-filled, thoughtless
Gorging of the rational mind?

What keeps a mind alive?
It lives on others.

Wallace Stevens offered
This solution, said once
Before he found
The palm at the end
Of the mind, of mind:
“Of what value is anything
  to the solitary and those
  that live in misery
  and terror, except
  the imagination?”
Shall we take his word?
Or perhaps other sights
At the doors of perception,
Hallucinations of the mad,
Absurd larks of the hypnotized,
Acid nightmares, opium
Dreams, shroom visitations,
Even the possible dreams
Of the restless dead,
I, there’s the rub,
Dreams on the nod,
Waking dreams, dreams
Of the tossing sleepless?
Or perhaps what Peirce
Called “play of musement”?
Or perhaps what John
Cowper Powys called
“Dithyrambic analysis”?
Or perhaps what Werner
Herzog called “ecstatic truth”?
Or perhaps the very visions
Of the mystics, prophets
And the saints?

The poem of the ape
Is dappled by leafy
Sunlight, layered
Network of passing
Birds, drifting clouds,
Patterns of light
And shade, the poem
Of the ape contains
Long days of jungle
Rain, long nights
Of noisy silence,
Chit-chatter, high
Squeals, shrieks,
Screams, soft
Rustling of vine,
Of leaf and leaves.

What do we fear?

Distant rolls of thunder
Or are they guns,
Rattle and thud, loud BANG?
Poor chimp, hand
Ripped off by a poacher’s
Trap, scabbed and leaking
Pus, hobbles, huddles,
Doesn’t know he’s dying,
Infection eating him alive,
Bloating corpse of a lowland
Gorilla, hands and feet
Lopped off to give some
Credulous Chinaman
A happy hard-on, oh yes,
The poem of the ape
Even contains the weary
Bars of its dreary cage,
The poem of the ape
Includes all of this,
All of this and more.

What do we fear?

Collapsing stars?
Wandering asteroids?
Magnetic polar shifts?
All our land floating
On a seething sea
Of molten magma?
Infinitely extended
Finite universe
That repeats, repeats,
Repeats? Infinite
Universe that goes on
Forever without ever
A stammer?
Mad tock and tick
Of puzzling time?
Does the poem of the ape
Contain all this? Should
The poem of the ape
Contain all this?

What do we fear?

What do we fear?

I hear a gentle voice,
Melodious, as of
One singing.

Is this voice yours?

What does it say?

Fear not, the stone
Is rolled away?

Is this the voice
That nurtures, sings,
Purrs, enjoys
The passing moment
Of the passing day?

Every day, every day,
Birds begin to sing,
(They do, I hear them),
Twittering, fluttering,
Harmonizing their sharp
Discords all the livelong day,
Apparently (“apparently,”
I say) as happy as a whole
Barrelful of monkeys.

What do they say?




What do we have to fear?

What do we have to fear?
What do we have to fear?

Not a goddam thing.

There, there.  end