Tantalus Monkey is an Old World monkey which traditionally ranges
from Senegal and Ethiopia to South Africa. More recently, a number of
them were carried by slavers to the Caribbean islands, along with enslaved
Africans. The monkeys subsequently escaped or were released and became
naturalized. The descendents of those populations are found on West Indian
islands and even in Florida. The dorsal fur of Chlorocebus monkeys varies
by species from pale yellow through grey-green brown to dark brown, while
the lower portion and the hair ring around the face is a whitish yellow.
Males have a blue scrotum and red penis and weigh from 3.9 to 8 kg while
females weigh from 3.4 to 5.3 kg. Their births usually happen at the beginning
of the rainy season, when there is sufficient food available. The life
expectancy of the green monkeys is 11-13 years in captivity, and about
10-12 years in the wild. They eat leaves, gum, seeds, nuts, grasses, fungi,
fruit, berries, flowers, buds, shoots, invertebrates, bird eggs, birds,
lizards, rodents, and other vertebrates. Their preferred foods are fruit
and flowers, a seasonal resource that is varied to cope with changes in
food availability. In tourist areas, they will commonly steal brightly
coloured alcoholic drinks left behind by tourists. They use a wide variety
of vocalizations; they warn off members of other groups from their territory,
and also warn members of their own troop of dangers from predators, using
different calls for different predators. Facial expressions and body posturing
serve as additional communication tools in a highly complex set of social
interactions. Where alliances can be formed for benefit, deception is
sometimes used. Although they are not endangered, their numbers are declining
due to powerlines, dogs, vehicles, shooting, poisoning, and hunting, both
as a food source and as a source of traditional medicines. Added to this,
there is an increase in desertification, and loss of habitat due to agriculture
and urbanisation. As well, they have been the focus of much scientific
research since the 1950s, and they are used to produce vaccines for polio
and smallpox, and in studying high blood pressure and AIDS.
Only one recruit in Basic Training was more ate-up
His name was Private Spencer and he couldn't do anything
right at all, not even tie his own boots, and his bunk-mate
had to carry him along as best he could, so we wouldn't all
catch hell for it. There's only so much you can do, though,
to hide another man's flaws, and soon the drills were wise
to Private Spencer and once they were wise to you (I was
finding out myself), they never let up for even a moment.
So by the third week we were being forced to beat our faces*
300 times a day because of mistakes Private Spencer made.
He was late for after-lunch formation and we beat our faces,
he slipped during drill & ceremony and we beat our faces,
his canteen spilled on the captain's shoes, he didn't shave,
he looked at the drill the wrong way, and we beat our faces.
Eventually some of the guys decided to frag Private Spencer.
They came to me and asked me to join them and I said no.
I said leave the guy alone. It's hard enough being the worst.
And we were going to beat our faces over something anyway.
Private Spencer was just the drills' most convenient excuse.
I didn't tell them I was glad for Spencer, and all the Spencers
at every turn in our lives, who spare us from being the worse,
the fat girl who makes us feel better about our extra weight,
the stupid man who dies trying to kiss a shark, that man
you heard about who asked 3000 women to marry him
only to be rejected by them all, the Spencers, the failures.
Leave him alone, I told them, but for the grace of God go I.
I'm not much of a prophet, but I was a little bit that day
for later they cornered me in the latrine, wearing scarves
to mask their faces, as if I couldn't tell them by their eyes.
"We're tired of beating our faces," the platoon leader told me,
as they each palmed a sock full of boot polish, soap, whatever,
and I thought about the times I caused them to beat their faces.
As they moved in, I saw Spencer up near the front of the pack.
His eyes looked pleased he was finally managing to fit in,
like he had now figured out a way not to be the worst around.
I was happy for him. He had found his place in the world.
*"beat your face" is army lingo for pushups, the drills always have
fun with this the first time it's said, watching the recruits punch
themselves in their jaws repeatedly.
James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books,
2011). He has published hundreds of poems in places like Anderbo,
Arts & Letters, GHLL, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, River Styx,
and Verse Daily. His prose is also widely published in places
like Los Angeles Review, Pedestal Magazine, Potomac Review, storySouth,
and Superstition Review. He lives near Seattle.