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Section 3: Absence

David Axelrod

David Axelrod
Northern Sorrow Monkey
(Simia dolor borealis)

Rare across its range. Prefers highland forest near open water. Matrilineal. Not gregarious. Forms loose-knit groups only when young are present, otherwise solitary. Retreats to isolated refuges in mature trees. Browses on mistletoe, clubmoss, horsetail, lungwort and blueberries when available. Needles of hemlock and red cedar fronds are important winter forage. Individuals have been observed taking salamanders and tree frogs (Grieve, 1949). Often mistaken for a juvenile yeti. Typically silent, though when mating its copulatory vocalizations are imitative of and sometimes confused with the melancholy yodels and harsh howls of others with whom it shares its diminishing range.

–Field Guide to North American Monkeys

A howl from the beach below our camp
            woke us at night, and moments later
      another answering from krumholtz
high on the mountain above.
            Then still night again, the moon-path
      leading away down the glassy lake to falls
we planned to portage around days later.
            Bright moonlit hemlocks and cedars,
      draped in solemn green robes, stood
around us, attentive as we were
            who startled awake, at first afraid
      of those daunted cries—a song we knew,
a round first taught in kindergarten,
            the one that goes no, not now, not for you,
      probably never. The sorrow monkey
living without hope in its dwindling
            sliver of life, crowded by refugees
      from that world on fire in the south,
aware that nothing else is possible
            beyond the already-known—there will
      be no more adventuring forth, only
hammering back into the familiar hole,
            no achievement, no Infinite Theorem
      or Hundredth Monkey, just limits:
the falls, a border never to be dared,
            and the range of that roar, its cascading
      over cliffs, the mist rising, rapids
churning below—all are a reminder of how
            the farther a Sorrow Monkey roves
      the louder the overawing rebuke,
a trail around hazards is a risk
            never taken. Those two didn’t
      call out twice, though we sat up
waiting, listened all night, recalling
            those troubled howls, a moonlit dome
      of fog hovering over the unnavigable
falls we soon found a route around.
David Axelrod is the editor most recently of Sensational Nightingales: The Collected Poetry of Walter Pavlich. His most recent collections of poems are Folly and What Next, Old Knife?, both from Lost Horse Press. Individual poems and essays have appeared previously or are forthcoming in Bear Deluxe, Fogged Clarity, High Desert Journal, Miramar, Narrative, Serving House Journal, Stringtown,, and Western Humanities Review, among others.



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