In Kenya, vervet monkeys take the ground
Until a sentry gives a chattering bark,
Which in the simple vervet lexicon
Means snake , and connotes evil , death , and dark .
Or else the sentry makes a guttural sound
That translates in our own more complex tongue
To hawk or eagle circling for prey,
And sends the monkeys scampering. Either way,
The monkeys must take action”jump or flee
Across the ground or to a sheltering tree.
Should one, instead, hearing a sentry speak,
Decide to deconstruct the fellow’s meaning
And prove all urgent chattering oblique,
A python’s fang or hawk’s cruel curving beak
Will punctuate the monkey’s idle preening,
Ending his dissertation in mid-squeak.

Articles by Paul Lake

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