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Jennifer Michael Hecht – Ⅲ

A Little Mumba




In two billion years

the expanding sun will dry the oceans,

meanwhile, life has been around for more

than two billion years. Thus,

life on earth is at least half over.


There is not a lot of time

To get this figured.


Three geographers hike

an unknown South Sea Island,

raising minor mountains on their

field maps.


Suddenly they’re pounced

on by a hidden tribe, grimacing

and wild. Brought before tribal

council, chief expounds

their choices: death or Mumba.


The first says, I don’t know Mumba,

But death is bad.

So Mumba.


The crowd, elated,

yells Mumba!, throws geographer

into a pit and goes in after. Hours later,

out staggers the stranger, naked

and deeply rearranged. Does not

respond to any name.

Tribal council


asks the second: Death or Mumba?

Again, the answer comes Mumba; again,

Crowd hip-checks the outsider, plunders in

After, voracious and obscene. Again, after

Many hours, out crawls the map maker,

Bedraggled, strained, and chewed.


Tribal council

Asks a last time, Death or Mumba?

Geographer looks into the pit,

up at the stars, and says, I want

To live, but I am not as strong as they.

I must choose death. The crowd

is silent. A wise decision,

says the chieftan, Death by Mumba.




It is hard to get through

without resolving against human

interaction. What stings we feel

are ferocious, inadmissible,

unseemly. They linger and steam.

Thus the right-thinking runt

shuts them down, apes the machine.

But in the end, friends,

It’s either Mumba or death by Mumba,

so Mumba’s better.


But oh my life, the Mumba of it all.

The unyielding Mumbasity of life, of life

with others, in particular, oh my time.


What are you so frightened of?

Of what are you so frightened?


The universe, for instance, has

clusters of galaxies, we are not jealous

of their cliques: and these galaxies are

so big that they make the difference in size

between us and a fly, well, negligible.


The chatter has so little to do with anything

that is the matter.


You’ve got to figure: they planned this trip

together, the three geographers, Hinty, Luce,

and Spoon, since June, and now it’s April

and they’re on this island measuring

and counting, mapping and sleeping in a

canvas tent and out comes this thoroughly

other from the bushes. Then it’s the bum’s rush

to the tribal circle, wide-eyed terrified.


You hear yourself say, Mumba doesn’t sound

So bad, and then you are lost to it,

drawn in, engaged in battle, though you hate

to wrangle, there you are.


A long time later, the onslaught abating,

your resistance subsides as they do; once

alone, you crawl in the powdery dirt

toward the lip of the pit. One of those


against whom you struggled

grips your elbow, lifts you over.

You hug the earth as vertigo hugs her

after a stint in the tower. From this supine state

you watch Spooner and Luciotta as one makes

the same choice you made,

and the other goes in for the other.

A fly goes by, in its minor role of fly.


There is a great deal of action, but you

are out of it now, not yet certain whether

you will live through this or die. You do not

know anyone at home will notice

that your trip has gone awry. You think

of your front yard, all the effort of youth,

the apologies. Perhaps you die now,

all that work come to nothing,

come to Mumba on a mild night, alone.

You’ve got dirt in your mouth and on a whim,

instead of spitting, you stick out your tongue

and taste the soft, cool earth beneath you.

You roll yourself over;

stare up at the ten thousand stars.


Crushed between the galactic world

and all these subatomic particles

is so much emotion: anger, pity, relief

and this emotion, though emanating

from such an inconsequential thing

as you, is as large a total

as is the cosmos, and elemental

as electrostatic charge.


Neither black holes nor spider nets

await us. Other webs do, but we are not

the size of solitude either, so must

accept them. It is good to remember

that our troubles only obtain

on this median scale of play; elsewhere is

unaware of them. All, then, we’ve

ever needed is a minute change in scale.


One of the wild ones is a poet, whispers in your

Supine ear to confess and to remind: My love

Has me lolling around a crater

On the moon, sucking wheat stalks.

Your bruised heart overtakes your senses.


I don’t know whether you want

To hear it or not, but the next night

everyone is dancing,

the babies and the crazies and the flies,

under the spangled, leaf-framed sky,

and you can’t help it, you join in.

That’s how good dancing is.