Monthly Archives: August 2013

Book I – Chapter 1 – Genesis

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.

“This land

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 ?”