“Why are we in Vietnam?” (or any damn place for that matter), revisited
How long should we wash our hands?
And while we’re at it,
How many angles in “Heaven”?
Just to keep things moving,
Dear little Ameise, you always have mints in a bowl!
How tiny you look today
Stooped over your busy hands with your spun-glass hair.
Every time I see you, you have shrunk a little more.
Why, you are almost the size of an ant.
What do you call your monkeys?
Those two, the ones you put diapers on.
You diaper them and turn them loose.
Out of their cage they leap.
Now they are acting wild in the sunroom.
The sun gets angry,
It asks you nicely, nice for the sun,
Let me play with those monkeys!
But you don’t trust it.
And for good reason. No, no, no.
It burns the house down.
The monkeys run for it, helter skelter.
But you continue to watch your golf tournament
Throughout the mayhem,
Spooning down your Dream Whip.
The monkeys learn quickly.
They go find the sun.
He is still raging, burning up every cloud in the sky.
Flying is easy.
These monkeys learn fast.
The sun sees them coming.
Oh, it’s those pesky monkeys who have come to play with me.
But now they are really smart pesky monkeys.
The sun is thinking of what to do.
I will burn their tushes and send them home!
Not so fast.
These monkey’s have a plan.
They sneak around back with a clay pot.
They fill this pot at the rain spout.
Rap-a-tap-tap, using their wings, they tap-dance on the door.
Let us in!
We are scared of heights!
(They snicker to each other.)
Sun decides to be in a nice mood.
Those monkeys visiting will make a pleasant distraction.
The monkeys come in.
They are hiding their little water-pot.
They are hiding their wings beneath their jackets too.
The sun thinks he has them now.
You have come a long way.
Do you want to play?
The monkeys look at each other and pretend to be nervous.
What game do you suggest?
How about dice.
We don’t gamble, say the monkeys innocently.
Well, just this once maybe, says the sun.
What are the stakes?
Oh, how about your tails.
Oh, that’s a funny idea.
And what will you put up? ask the little monkeys.
The sun has never lost in a million years.
How about my house.
The monkeys look around.
They like what they see.
It’s a deal.
Whoever gets the highest doubles in three roles wins.
First the sun roles and he gets two fives.
The monkeys roll and they get two fives.
The sun rolls and he gets a six and a one.
Monkeys roll and they get six and one.
They say, You are a good teacher for us.
The sun is feeling queasy but he is quick-witted.
Why don’t we take a nice break now.
But really he is thinking: What am I going to do about these monkeys!
The monkeys begin looking over their new digs.
The sun says, Oh look, its Ameise down below.
She is calling to her dear little monkeys to come home.
Maybe you should leave now.
The monkeys pretend to be fooled.
They look down.
Where is her house?
Oh, there is it, that charred pile of smoldering wood.
I wonder how that happened!
Now the sun is ashamed because it was he who burned it down.
But he really wants those monkeys to leave.
They are reminding him of what a jerk he is.
We are homesick now, they say.
Let us finish our game.
They sit and sun rolls.
He gets two fives again.
They both get two sixes.
Good-bye, they say.
Oh, you are leaving? asks Sun with relief.
No, you are leaving, say the monkeys.
This is our house now.
Sun leaves, hanging his huge head.
Monkeys fly down and get Ameise.
They also get her TV and her Dream Whip.
It will be fun living in the Sun’s house.
Ameise is happy to see that her monkeys are grown up.
Hey, you forgot something, shout the monkeys to Sun.
He is setting with a chip on his shoulder.
They throw the little clay pot of water at Sun.
It hits him square on his forehead just as he is ducking behind a hill.
Well, that takes care of him for a while.
Ameise and the monkeys sit back and watch the golf tournament.
reflection: (Inspired by Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary and Norman Mailer’s novel, “Why are we in Vietnam?”.) Sometimes I use poetry as a way to tell myself stories that are happening in a parallel universe in a part of my imagination that seems to be alive and well. What happens in these poems makes no logical sense, but amounts to a kind of complex metaphor that compensates for a world that has lost its depth or meaning for me, at least temporarily. Poems like these are my way of pushing a reset button. This poem made me laugh out loud when I wrote it. The gambling scene is influenced by Native American tales and the monkeys, as tricksters, are borrowed from Chinese wisdom tales. (The chaos they sow, in some strange way, ultimately set things right.) The way they get the better of the sun and are able to restore order to Ameise’s world is reassuring to me on a deep level. The Sun is a Trump-like character: power-hungry, self-centered, spoiled, and dangerous. Ameise (“ant” in German) is a version of my own aunt Margery, who kept men at bay in her long, long life, and she actually did own monkeys (and Nubian goats). In this poem she is a mythical person, a kind of faery or the distant descendant of an earth-deity. She is the opposite of the sun and cannot be destroyed by his rampages, but he can make her suffer much the way the feminine is threatened by adolescent patriarchal demigogues who seem to be hell-bent on wrecking the planet.