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To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey 
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

—Thomas Lux

From The Cradle Place
Houghton Mifflin, 2004

Copyright 2004 Thomas Lux.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright 2004 by Thomas Lux. For further permissions information, contact Ronald Hussey, 215 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10003,

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Thomas Lux (1946-2017) is the author of 20 poetry collections, including To the Left of Time (2016). Born in Northampton, Massachusetts to working class parents, Lux attended Emerson College and the University of Iowa. He died in 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Learn more about Thomas Lux at The Poetry Foundation.