Purchase The Apes of Eden – The Journey Begins
Book I – Chapter 1 – Genesis
According to the legends of our race
the Tribe originated in a place
called Eden. It lies “east,” but east of where
is now no longer known. It’s said that there
our first progenitors came down from trees
where they had ripened in the sun and breeze.
A second legend contradicts the first,
and says we fell from Heaven, roundly cursed
by worried gods who recognized that we
were latent threats to their supremacy,
and wisely chose to banish us to Hell
before they had a Great Revolt to quell.
We outmaneuvered them, and landed here
on Earth. Just how we did it isn’t clear;
the legend’s Happy Ending seems to be
a missing page in tribal history.
The “War in Heaven” is a common theme
in ancient lore–so common, it would seem,
that writers who refer to it suppose
it is a story everybody knows,
which needn’t be repeated. Since they fail
to give the Plot, or even much detail,
it’s hard to build a narrative around
the mere allusions, which are all I’ve found.
The War occurred; of that there’s little doubt,
since apes cannot be brusquely ordered out.
Apparently the Tribe was put to flight,
but surely not without a brutal fight.
A third, still stranger, theory says we came
from human beings. That one’s rather lame!
No ape with half his wits about him can
believe we Higher Apes evolved from Man–
the lowest of the primates, mere cartoons,
the moral peers of mandrills or baboons!
And yet this superstition still persists
among small cliques of crypo-atheists,
who flaunt their right to “freedom of belief”
with grudging toleration by our Chief.
Some ancient scribes, rejecting “theory,” say
we’ve always been as we exist today;
we neither dropped from Heaven nor arose
“by evolution” from our racial foes.
That open-ended past I can’t conceive,
nor do I know which theories to believe.
I only know that Eden, lush and fair,
exists, and we originated there.
How else can one explain how “Eden” came
to be our own distinctive tribal name?
From most surviving records, it appears
we stayed in Eden twenty million years–
but some say twenty billion. Others give
a shorter span. I can’t be positive
when scribal records handed down to me
are mistransmitted so creatively.
We lived a tranquil and idyllic life
unmarred by hardships, danger, toil and strife.
In Eden every fruit this planet knew,
and every flower, in profusion grew.
The lotus blossoms, amaranths* and palms
enriched the zephers with their fragrant balms,
and rainbow-colored lovebirds trilled among
the vines, where grapes the size of melons hung.
The very weeds were elegantly decked
with breeds of flowers one would least expect.
We gorged on fruits, fresh-ripened every day
for our convenience, in profuse array.
Among the shady fronds we took our ease,
or chased each other up and down the trees,
or polished up our acrobatic stunts
on boughs that bore a dozen fruits at once,
dislodging pears on one another’s head
and seeing mangoes ripen in their stead–
or any crop that met the moment’s needs.
We pelted passersby with rinds and seeds.
We made up games, then freely changed the rules.
We grinned at our reflections in the pools.
Uncounted generations came and went
before we tired of ease and merriment.
In autumn of our twenty millionth year
some Mental Ferment started to appear.
A wise old ape, with fur of iron-gray,
would circulate among us, day by day,
persuading us that Eden could not be
unless created by a Deity.
He thought a cosmos ruled by natural laws
in order to exist, must have a Cause.
He had a scroll that no one else could read,
*At last I’ve found a rhyme for “amaranth,”
but have no place to use it: “coelacanth,”
a mythologic fish with “hollow spine”
(from which the name derives) who swam the brine
of fabled, purely-legendary seas
existing only in mythologies.
I’m trying to preserve this sort of gem;
some future poet may have need of them.
Perhaps my reader’s not aware that “aardvark”
rhymes, at least trochically, with “card shark.”
Also, as a last resort, an “orange”
rhymes the first two syllables of “porring-
er.” (Mishyphenations can and do
beget such monsters by the cageful.) –Lou
which he unrolled when there arose the need
to prove some point about the proper way
to plan a universe. My archives say
there’d been no antecedent for his view
of Cosmic Verities–the false and true
which we, his philosophic heirs, agree
are fundamental to theology.
His views are never questioned, any more,
but no one had suggested them before,
and very few among us thought they could
concern ourselves. The few who understood
his far-fetched lore of Cosmic Deity
decried its lack of practicality.
Our tribal common knowledge was that Earth
was just a mote among the stars–not worth
a second’s notice by a Being who
has vastly more important things to do.
Within a universe so grandly wrought,
this world was but a cosmic afterthought.
That Sage of old worked hard to set us straight,
and, point by point, out-talked us in debate.
He made us grudgingly begin to doubt
we really had the cosmos figured out.
He showed, with excerpts quoted from his book
the errors in our thinking. We mistook
Existence for Necessity.
exists,” he said, “but try to understand
it wouldn’t have to. Likely it would not
if sun or moon were only half as hot.
Were any of a hundred factors changed,
the world might be completely rearranged.
Suppose the moon and stars were just as bright
as sunshine is–we couldn’t sleep at night.
But what compels the Lesser Lights to glow
so modestly? Does anybody know?
Suppose the sun came up before the dawn,
or set when twilight was already gone–
what Power holds in such precise array
these alternations of the night and day?
Has not some knowing, caring Intellect
arranged the world for us, in this respect?
Suppose (instead of horizonal) land
were vertical : where could a person stand?
And, if it were inverted , we would fly
to our destruction down into the sky!
Could living creatures on their own devise
this deft arrangement of the lands and skies?
Suppose the rainfall here were slightly more.
Our lake would gradually encroach the shore
(its equilibrium upset) until
its water inundates the highet hill!
If coconuts fell up, instead of down,
we wouldn’t find them lying on the ground;
we’d have to climb the palm trees. Why do grapes
and berries grow within the reach of apes
instead of (for example) underground,
where they’d have sprouted by the time they’re found?
Our favorite roots don’t grow in rock, but soil,
extractable with negligible toil.
This all occurred by Chance, the Skeptics say;
but how can chance make things a certain way ?
By chance alone, the sky might not be blue;
it might be brown. Would that appeal to you?
We apes are brown. What color might we be
by chance? Blue apes would be a sight to see!
Consider trees: Were trees one foot in height,
how could we build our nests up high at night?
Or fingernails: exactly where they ought
to grow. Without them, how could fleas be caught?
There’s no place on us where a flea can go
that can’t be scratched with finger or with toe;
so even we were planned, in each detail,
to be ourselves, from brain to fingernail.
This couldn’t all be chance. Please understand
this world did not ‘just happen’–it was planned !
This proves–” (He paused to puzzle through his scroll)
“–that all these things are under God’s control!”
He was the greatest thinker of the age.
Adducing arguments like these, the Sage,
since Order in the Universe persists,
convinced us a Divinity exists.
He pressed his thesis further, saying we
should go in quest of Cosmic Deity–
he’d met someone, he said, who’d thought it odd
that we, the Higher Apes, had not found God.
The Sage’s name is more than I can guess
from documents surviving now. This mess
of tribal books is scratched on potsherds, stones,
or scalpulae and other broad, flat bones,
or shells, or slabs of rock, or sunbaked clay;
and some do not support what others say.
You’d think, when some great leader rose to fame,
that someone would at least record his name;
but, sorting archives, page by stony page,
the only thing I’ve seen him called is “Sage.”
In all the lands our roving Tribe has crossed,
that’s not the only history we’ve lost.
To say that careless scribes have brought disgrace
on our profession, understates the case.
Though certain scribes were chroniclers indeed,
one doubts that others even learned to read.
My predecessor was incompetent.
Possessing little Jounalistic Bent,
as he “kept records,” that unlettered hack
just “kept” them, unassorted, in a sack–
so that his long-neglected task devolved
on me, with all these problems unresolved.
Because it’s evidently up to me
to straighten out our tribal history,
I’ll make what sense I can of broken sherds
–and split infinitives, and misspelled words–
and trust my patient reader not to judge
a scribe too harshly, when he has to fudge.
But I digress. Our Leader from his perch
harangued us, swinging from a bough of birch
above the heads of our assembled band,
and gestured with his feet, and one free hand:
“With manifest Activity of Mind,
what mysteries we’d solve, what secrets find,
if we’d exploit our capabilities
instead of lolling idly in the trees.
As long as we’re content to loiter here
and shrink from Exploration, in our fear
of High Adventure waiting in the large
uncharted world beyond this garden’s marge
–if mere uncertainty leaves us agape
with fear–do we deserve the title, Ape?
Have we no higher destiny than this:
to bask in mindless idleness and bliss?
Who wants to be considered such a clod
he has to hedge when asked: Have you found God?
Let’s find the Deity!” our prophet cried,
and swung excitedly from side to side.
“Let’s forge a destiny that’s really worth
the efforts of the wisest race on Earth!”
His theme, reiterated doggedly,
elicited some widespread apathy.
The bulk of us preferred our slothful beds
among the fronds. We quailed, and wagged our heads.
Those apes who understood the Sage at all
made weak excuses: Why this rousing call
to go intrude on someone else’s haunt
while having everything we’ll ever want ?”
No aspect of his theme was weaker than
its lack of object, or specific plan.
He told us we should be out searching, but
could only obfuscate when asked:
“For what ?”