photo by steven gabriel
Ren Powell is the author of two books of poetry (Fairy Tales and Soil, 1999; Mixed States, 2004) and ten books of translations. Her poetry has been translated and published in Spanish, Norwegian, Croatian, French and Farsi. Her poetry has been published in International PEN's Magazine, Segue, Beacons, Ice Flow and Prick of the Spindle among others. She is the founding editor of Babel Fruit: writing under the influence and an associate editor of Poemeleon.
Even the old, wild-born baboons
leave off masturbating their thin dicks
to groom the new mothers.
Even fenced into two naked acres of Texas
barren females can snatch
and hide an infant
until it turns to leather
and a juvenile grabs and flings
the corpse onto its back
to play pony—
For God's sake, says Stephen, my supervisor.
Don't anthropomorphize the animals.
(He reminds me
each behavior is coded for statistical purposes,
and playing pony isn't one of them.)
Yellow males charge, but shy away at the last.
But females can carry a grudge and creep up,
hours later, to bite a tail clean off.
their asses are a
They stare at us
in our tower.
Stirring the dust at their haunches—
It's only the skeletal structure of their shoulders that
stops them from throwing feces at us
like the chimps do.
I face the wind
for most of the orientation
and never hear how many generations
of Japanese Macaques have been on the Dilly Ranch.
Monkey chow spills from the tailgate of the old Chevy
and the alpha male climbs up with us,
sticking one of his arms into the bag.
Oblivious to me.
Or maybe not.
And maybe it isn't pity that leads me to coax
the toothy old female to needle the system.
I know that by taking food from my outstretched palm
she risks having her belly ripped open
by a higher-ranking monkey’s incisors.
Each animal is tattooed
and it's hard work.
Stephen guides me
as I do number 168:
My arm going numb from elbow to fingertip
steering the fat instrument's watery momentum
over her right flank.
Manifesting tiny beads of blood,
like panning for gold.
In Houston, the rhesus monkeys
are kept in isolation, because they might be
infected with Monkey B.
A researcher in San Antonio was bitten
and died three days later.
Stephen walks down the hall, toward them.
But he tells me to wait where I am,
in front of the Mandrill:
monkish as a vintage doll.
From this perspective
it's difficult to count the number of cages,
or the number of sterile, linoleum squares
between Stephen and me—
and the Mandrill
which is mesmerisingly still.
And its eyes—his eyes, wet and open
The rhesus' chattering gathers weight
Spilling from cage
Stephen calls from California
‘Just to say hello’,
but I’m living with someone now.
Holding the phone up to his front door for a moment,
Stephen then asks, Do you hear it?
It’s the rioting.
We both laugh.
We thought he’d left that kind of thing behind.
On Karl Johan
Where the train station empties
at the top of the pedestrian street,
a woman in an orange down jacket
sobs in the summer downpour
and a man with a black umbrella
pauses, then hurries on to the Bristol
where another woman sits waiting
in a deep leather chair,
wet canvas shoes,
stirring orange pekoe tea and thinking
about the woman neither of them will mention,
(the path rain over her cheekbones,
down her neck,
under the shiny collar)—
He had found an excuse to
adjust something about the handle
of his briefcase, leaning against the railing,
then squatting with a practiced look of purpose.
He had noticed her clean fingernails,
watched the rain beat her lacquered hair,
and thought to wait for her
to wait for her weight to shift
away or toward him,
to provide him with a cue—
But she continues to stare
down Karl Johan,
a slack shouldered,
stiff-spined stick puppet
street musician settled into
one wholly unambivalent chord.
the weight of his briefcase,
the handle into place
in his grasp, and