POEM LXX: “JANE GOODALL”

You only need one photo
to understand why.
A romantic-looking girl in khakis
blonde ponytail carelessly lovely
reaches out to touch the fingertips
of a chimpanzee baby
reaching out to touch back.

That photo launched a thousand career plans in my youth.
(The sight of Sea World trainers standing on the noses of killer whales
would do the same for a later generation.)

But, as “Mad Men” reminds us,
Not every little girl gets to do what they want;
the world cannot support that many ballerinas.

So here are my suggestions
for how to Be Jane Goodall
without having to fly to Kenya.

First, name all the people around you.
Give them codenames based on their personalities
and their positions in the tribe.
Note friendships and blood relationships
with helpful trees in your notebooks.
Take copious notes, always.
A tape recorder may help with this,
if you can be very quiet
and are not overheard in your cubicle
whispering things like,
“Strong Millicent and Tweetie forage for snacks together.”
(This will result in your swift expulsion from the tribe.)
Earn their trust.
Leave small gifts of food and colorful leaves
in conspicuous paths and walkways.
Avoid loud noises and sudden movements, always.
Try to blend in. You may find that having opinions
on The Big Bang Theory helps with this.
Barring that, hide behind the water cooler
and use pine branches to cover your scent.

You may encounter some friction.
This is all to be expected in the course of scientific exploration.
Besides, no one ever said Being Jane Goodall would be easy.
But when you publish,
try to remember that the real revelation
is never how different we are
from our cousins
but always how similar.
A girl with a ponytail reaches out to touch a chimp.
We know she named him Flint.
Who’s to say he did not name her too?

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