The Monkey Chronicles

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Poetry

Strip of damaged film

We took a stroll by the water, and Mabel was clinging to my arm.  I was younger then.  I was living in an elevator on Tomilson Street in the Bay District.  All day, when I wasn’t sightseeing with Mabel, I went up and down that elevator… though never past the seventh floor.  It is possible I was waiting for the Muse, but it is also possible that the Muse had disguised itself once again as a monkey.  I didn’t care for monkeys then, or now, but at least there weren’t that many of them by the bay.  That was the year Mabel was practicing witchcraft on the sly, which was a fortunate coincidence because I was practicing phrenology.  I was studying the works of Martin Bischelton, and though he has long since been discredited, I still think he said some fascinating things about ear lumps.  It was less than a year after the War that July, and Mabel was casting about for a spell to make her back molars stop throbbing, and I was casting about for a way to make plaster flower vases from monkey skulls.  This was shortly after that pecan-cluster debacle on the 4th, and secretly, behind my own back, I was having an affair.  She was a much older woman, and Mabel knew nothing about her, though I think she suspected because of the flies she saw that time clinging to those damned monkeys at the zoo.  All of this reminds me of the Bloody Marys — you know the ones — and also of a memory of my mother.  She used to hide in a corn field as a young girl, a corn field on her grandfather’s farm.  That was Minnesota, and I can’t forgive her that.  But in any case, yesterday I went to renew my passport at the post office, and Mabel followed me again, and I was weary of how that elevator stuck and stuck and wouldn’t go past the seventh floor, which annoyed me no end, and so I closed my eyes and imagined running my fingers over a shaved skull.  There were bumps, to be sure, and ridges.  But still I could not find the Muse.  That is my legacy, I think, like a language winking out, like that final letter in July, like Mabel in her gilded cage, but mostly it’s the stupid monkeys, and no one ever gave a damn for that.

Heat Wave Contents


Doug Ramspeck's poetry collection, Black Tupelo Country, was selected for the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and is published by BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City). His chapbook, Where We Come From, is published by March Street Press. Several hundred poems of his have appeared in journals that include West Branch, Rattle, Confrontation Magazine, Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Hunger Mountain, and Hayden’s Ferry. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing and composition at The Ohio State University at Lima. He lives in Lima with his wife, Beth, and their daughter, Lee.