The Propagation of the Species

Jennifer Michael Hecht

It is likely that someone
will be standing there at the end
of time, looking up at the fireball
or down at the organs of desire.

It won’t be us, but only because odds
are odds: uncanny, cranky, spare. Thus
we may conclude the world to be a safe
enough place. These are the cares
of the day, the age of probability
having replaced historic ne’er-do-wells
with numbers. As for us, we live in
surprise; why not share this mood
and facial disposition with some scion
of the future generation?

We spent our meditation-time instead
confessing. The exercise delivered
unexpected fruit. Perhaps we’ve better quarry
than the truth.

The fruit of all of this is
possession and release,
mango and bananas.

Especially bananas. Try expressing
to a friend, when next you are feeling
unglued or blue, say: I’m bananas. Explain
to others that your lover, while very
sweet and handsomely randy, is a mite bananas;
is bananas. With a meaningful look in your eye,
gesture an unpeeling.

It is your autobiography
you are living. The actor eating scampi
to my left says he is not yet off-book, but
will be. Folks, I am ever-so-slightly off-book;
Friends, I am bananas.

We parse the problem, nouning out the principle
players: friends, families, prospects. I interview
the possibility of a child;
ask it questions. Intone the word: Interested?
Then: Want to learn the word for widget?
Want to read Beowulf? Want to get named?

Shall we grin and bear it?
I admit, existence is where woeful
was conjured. Nonetheless, to recommend it,
there is Jell-O; average rainfall; the anchovy
app at Luna’s; and the fact that in the middle, many
change their minds on the whole shebang — get
a good one off in both directions. But you and I
are going to have to choose.

It is our autobiography
we are eating; you snooze you
lose. Still, in the midst of going too slowly,
all hell has been known to break loose.

A gang of snails attacks a tree sloth, steals her wallet.
Down at the station, police chief
questions: How’d they get ya?

Sloth says, I dunno, it all happened so fast.

Ain’t it the truth. All this wallowing

in the details of engagement
and when the battle comes,
it isn’t quite expected. It’s slower. Also,
over much too fast to make a fair
assessment. Lounging in her tea tree,
chewing leaves and dreaming, she sees
them: tiny, slimy things with spiral shells
and damp antennae that float like sea anemone
above their wet-tongue heads. She wonders
softly: Is it a moment for decision?

Shall I bolt or battle? Or better yet,
might this pass me by without regret?
It took days for the battalion
to cross the stretch of trunk and reach
her, yet she was still mulling it over
when she found herself succumbed.
Years later, still on her way home
from the station, she wondered what
she had wanted with a wallet, anyway.

There is no way to parry ordinary disaster.
There are no odds worth playing.

Animal-stars from early motion-pictures
eat bonbons and wear feathered mules
in their trailers; the old-age home; the zoo.
What, on the other hand, will become
of you and I?

Side by side, the Studebakers inside us
ride along the Côte du Rhone,
our hair getting tangled in the violent wind of speed.

And how do you propose we un-knot
all these tangles? Not, I trust,
on the rocks below: brave souls pick
a hotel from the travel guide and go.

What do fools do? Don’t know.
Probably the same but badly.
Bombardiers stay home. Bombardiers
know too much of bombs to roam.

Still, it is a question of the result
of one’s actions. Mendel was a monk,
watching pea-pods, but had a wild effect
on pillow talk in centuries to follow;
mumblings of the pregnant engineer.

What do you get from a threesome of a tiger,
a scorpion, and a fly?
How do you get a zebra? Mix a horse
and a tiger.
How you get a tiger? Mix a lion
with that same zebra from before.

Let us accept a rainy August day
as if it were a single, unlikely fabrication.
As if these movies had
never been on television before, as if we’d
never heard of Mamie Eisenhower,
as if her tiny bangs could still cause us to smile.

The recovering tree sloth hangs upside-down,
her three-toed feet hooked to the fat branch
above her as she lollingly observes
the tropic scene. Much, she muses,
to which we cling, turns out to be . . .
ah well. She’s lost her train of thought,
chewing a mild leaf and swinging gently
with the breeze.

Odds of the home-front; odds of the sun;
odds of a herringbone. Run, run, run.

Jennifer Michael Hecht’s

. . . The Next Ancient World (Tupelo Press, 2001), won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award (2002). In 2003 her Doubt: A History (HarperCollins) and The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology (Columbia University Press) were published. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Partisan Review, Ms. Magazine, Barrow Street, and other journals; and in The Best American Poetry 1999 (Scribners), Poems to Live by in Uncertain Times (Beacon, 2001), Good Poems (Viking/Penguin, 2002), and Poetry Daily (Sourcebooks, 2003); and has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s NPR A Writer’s Almanac. She lives in NYC with her husband and son. Her website is