Todd Heldt


The monkeys scattered as the big brute rose
from his man-made cave in the Brookfield zoo
and swung to the top of the primate hut.
He planted his ass in the crotch of limbs,
and stretched his legs until I saw a thin stick
jut from between his -- wait, thatís not a stick --
like a pink asparagus spear!  But long.
No one noticed at first, but when he showed us
his thumbs, and how opposable they were, the crowd
fell into embarrassment.  A church group
in front of me hurried out of the room,
a pair of girls giggled, and some woman
said ďOh my God,Ē and covered up her eyes.
I was the only one who took pictures --
but it bothered me to think about
the sorry lot we carry, we fellows,
descendants of masturbating baboons.

A few months back I met for Sunday beer
with my friend Paul who told me the story
of the previous Monday when his dad
told him he'd found Jesus and no longer
wanted to drink or smoke or even
beat off.  And Paul had replied, Goddamnit,
dad, I donít want to know that about you.
And Paul had forced me to imagine
my own father admiring the handiwork
of his thumbs -- I donít want to go further
with this -- but what is the awkwardness
between fathers and sons, the ugliness
of learning our bodies?

Say, when I was fifteen and needed
a suit for my first funeral.
I remember my father dragging me
through a Dillardís department store,
where I was a failure.
Wading through aisles of jackets and slacks,
we found nothing to fit in the boyís department;
the menís department was equally bad --
all the coat sleeves dipping down to my knees.
Father was ashamed, and I was ashamed,
because I knew he was ashamed.

Sometimes out of the shower I catch myself
dripping in the mirror and understand
this is my fatherís body, naked
before me.  And I know why people shy
away from a self-pleasuring baboon.
Itís too much to apprehend, knowing where
we come from: the dumb stuff that shoots out
of our bodies.  But I quit touching myself --
not for Jesus, but because I knew
my father had -- or maybe still does --
and I couldnít stand to live with the same
body.  Handed down generation to
generation, baboon to human, thumbs and all.

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Publications: Sycamore Review, Laurel Review, Chattahoochee Review, Rag Mag, Nightsun, etc.
Book: Nobody's Dead Here But Us
Awards: 38th annual Abbie M. Copps poety prize
Other: See him on his upcoming poetry tour, "Looking for America" with Anthony Whitaker and Shelley Miller.

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