Gorilla Blessing

Written by Howard Nelson

Sitting in a restaurant eating a quiet meal, I’m often struck
by how much human beings resemble gorillas.
The way that woman over there
just now lifted her small daughter's hair
to examine some scratch or bite on the back of her neck,
just above the shoulder,
and then let the tender dark hair fall back down,
and patted her on the head.
Or the way my son,
young adult male of this species,
picks up french fries one by one,
making a casual but satisfactory choice each time,
dips each one into the pool of ketchup
and raises it to his mouth,
resembling the way the chimpanzee
raises the twig crawling with termites to his.
All this quiet lifting of food to mouth
Around the dusky room—
the steadiness and murmur—
there’s something beautiful about it—
something ape-like and sane.

There are differences of course.
We do less touching than they do, and much less mutual grooming.
Our conversation is more intricate than theirs—
though perhaps not so much.
They have a considerable variety of grunts, belches, and croonings,
and much must be said in their glances
and black-furred silences.

But in these moments in restaurants,
when I see a gorilla in every chair,
and the chairs are humps of earth
and the booths are lush booths of vegetation
on Karisoke slopes,
I think of kinship across six million years or so,
how similar our faces are, and our hands,
and how human behavior is trickier than theirs,
though certainly not better—
our best really not better than theirs,
their worst far less than ours.
And I think of how strange it is
that they have come and we have come
and both ride this planet
among chilly space and starry eternity,
they fewer, we always more.
And the baby gorilla at its mother’s breast,
and the deep-browed gaze of the silverback
stripping wild celery, stopping to look up,
and looking carefully around.

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