November 4th, 2019

anatomical beat

The Real LJ Idol - My enemies are all too familiar. They're the ones who used to call me friend.

This then is the experience of death descending, she thinks. She can hear them cutting the tin wall of her cabin, folding back the sheared edges, making enough room for one of them to crawl through. She knows someone is coming for her. She does not know that the machete she had confiscated from a poacher weeks before is the weapon slung over this lifetaker’s shoulders.

The jungle never sleeps, but after two dozen years the screams and cries and wooshing of the windswept Senecio and lobelia have become her nightly lullaby. Now, though, she is awake, straining to listen to the muttering of murderous men.

She is one to always measure and weigh, analyze and observe in shorthand. Woken from a slightly intoxicated sleep by the noise of them forcing entry, her scientific mind scrawls out the equation: enemy = intruder ÷ her graceless temper + a country torn to the smallest bits and pieces of human existence x her endless + endless + complicated grief.

She wonders; is it her sworn enemies, the poachers; her new friends, the young primatologists; or her old friends turned lethal by the hand of greed. She closes her eyes and waits.


She entered the jungle, naïve and young but so earnest, so very earnest. She longed to see the wildest creatures that inhabit the earth in the most untamed environments. She did and did not see this. She saw the wild creatures poached mercilessly, the jungles stripped relentlessly, and the minerals mined as though dug out of a bottomless wealth.

She does not leave the jungle, but dies there, bitter with knowledge of man’s inhumanity to man, the longest war between human and animal. Aeons of human hatred for nature.

She acknowledges to her self, in those last tense minutes, struggling to load the gun in the black of the night, that the joints in her body, the will of her blood, and the temperament in her heart have become exhausted by the work, the unrewarded work.

She is tired. The work has proven beyond her abilities. She has worn out her soul.

She drops the gun, discards the clip – it’s the wrong one regardless - and recognizes the waiting grave, in the family plot she dug by hand, one small human resting amongst the giant butchered beasts she loved and buried. And mourns.


She had friends once. She considers it, pouring another drink. Gin or island rum, imported vodka or smuggled bourbon - she has no preference, it all does the work she assigns it. Dulls the senses, fogs the memories, lessens the pain and quells the outrage.

Now she is never not outraged, enraged, indignant, resentful. Her temper is legendary, the fury that has grown within her is spiteful and very, very dangerous.

The danger is to her.

She cannot save the gorillas, and she will not save herself. Her friends become quiet and uncomfortable in the face of her existential bereavement. She mourns her innocent self, she mourns the slaughtered gorillas. Weeping and raging at dinner parties. Why don’t you see?! She stops attending, she stops being invited.

There is no consolation but the fact that she has tried.

She gives up on human friendship. It is a falsehood in her heart. She climbs the narrow trail up into the mountains and spends days and nights in a gorilla nest of her making.

When she comes back down to camp she uses the stinging nettles to punish those who would do her friends harm.


Before, she had dreams of sunlight and calm seas. Lifeboats and baskets overflowing with fruit balanced high on the heads of willowy women walking with careful steps. Her field books were filled with sketches, the nostril patterning that she had deciphered, this a father, that a mother, cousins, aunts and uncles. The newborns hidden in their mother’s arms for months. The gorilla she had known since his infancy, their friendship spelled his doom. Her love for him brought him his brutal death.

After, she suffered nightmares of running through the dark jungle, traps lying in wait, nooses hungry for her head or hands or feet, the sounds of wrath in the wind-whipped tree tops, a dark ocean crashing onto the shore of her body. The fruit spoiled, the paths tangled, and the bodies gutted.


His mutilation brings on unprecedented panic attacks, screaming, curled into a ball on the floor of her cabin, weeping until her breath cannot be caught. Save him, save him, save me. Save us all.


Who is the beast that uses a gorilla’s severed hand as an ashtray?


I am their mother now, she realizes. I am mother of all flora and fauna. The gorillas, the elephants, the lions, the warthogs, the hyaena. The fruiting bush and the flooding plain. I am the caretaker and protectress. Deep inside the jungle, I have come to watch over them all.

I will fail.

My life’s mission is sacrifice and martyrdom.


She writes to Jane and Farley, and reassures them that anthromorphizing is the way humans learn empathy. It’s how to teach compassion.

Impart this. Animals love, animals hate. They know joy and fear. They smile and frown, play and fight. They mother and father. They are sister and brother and aunt and uncle and cousin and friend and lover. They are us and we are them, and the earth is mother to all.

We live such short lives.


She yearns to hold the infant gorilla, like a child, and coo nonsense into her watchful gaze. She sees the silverbacks willing to die protecting the females and the young and she recognizes nobility.

She loved Digit. She could not keep him safe.

It is I who is the ignoble ape.


Gorilla skulls, gorilla hand ashtrays, orphaned wildlife young, ivory, big game trophies. Human animals driven by economics. Create the words ecology, conservation. The mountain gorillas do not stand in the way of human life, greed is misplaced, the oil that pools beneath the volcano belongs to the earth herself, the blood of the gunshot gorillas will not wash off your souls.

Our souls.


Twenty years after her life ends brutally, the way the lives of too many of Africa’s creatures end, slaughter finishes four of the gorillas she loved. Men who were told that the park was protected because of the mountain gorillas, reasoned that if the gorillas were gone, the park would be abandoned.

Oil is money and money is greed; the battery of the land is a criminal act, but no one is prosecuting.

The villagers craft makeshift litters and bind the bodies to them, then heft the burdens onto their shoulders. They carry each brutalized animal down the mountain, through the streets; a funeral procession. Don’t look away, they implore.

The world looks away.


Thirty years after her murder, a twelve-year-old girl grows up with a new language of ecology and conservation, environmentalism and activism, and suffers selective mutism. The world won’t listen. When she finally is ready to speak, she roars - How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.


No one knows, because she never tells them. She learns she must speak without mentioning the life she endures inside her heart.

The first time she looked into the eyes of a gorilla she understood she would fail them all. This terrible hopelessness filled her until finally – it was part of her destiny - with two blows of a poacher’s machete, it transformed.

When you realize the value of all life you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future — the last words in the last journal of Dian Fossey.