Missing In Action

In 2000, the handful of douc langur monkeys who survived the defoliation of their habitat in Vietnam were sitting out the rest of their lives in the San Diego Zoo, their enclosure/display a hospice for a dying species, so said the zoo’s interpretative signage, in other words.

Glass separated the humans and the monkeys.
Humans separated the monkeys from their land
and their trees from their leaves.
Sorry monkeys, you were simply collateral damage
and trees, we don’t even talk to you.
But you monkeys in the zoo, you don’t blink.

To the losers came these spoils. They look so human: so sad, so conscious. They look us in the eye. Their enclosure has no trees, to speak of, certainly not the kind of lush tropical evergreens they would live in if the US Air Force had not sprayed their habitat with Agent Orange during the Vietnam (Laos, Cambodia, American) War.

The capitalo-communo-global economy
made goods of your home, sold your kin.
But you monkeys in the zoo, you don’t blink.
You seem to see all that goes on.

At the zoo, visitors would not get to see as much if the douc langurs got to live in trees. Forests are good places for monkeys to hide, not just guerillas.

Colonists had begun the devastation.
Superpower amped it with chemical weapons
against the plants to reveal the people.
But you monkeys, you don’t blink.
You seem to have seen all that went on.
We feel pitied.

The douc langurs hid so well, turns out, hundreds more have recently been discovered deep in some of the remaining jungles of Southeast Asia. So the species was popped from hospice! Endangered species restoration efforts now focus on stopping poaching and logging, so says the Douc Langur Foundation website, which is in English. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, it says, trains local rangers to protect the animals. They wear camouflage uniforms like US soldiers wore during the war. The US advisors are not in the foundation’s picture. The trained rangers look battle-tough, knowing, angry, and wary of the camera. Yet they look it right in the eye.

May you be free of fear and safe from harm.
May I be free of fear and safe from harm.
May all primates be free of fear and safe from harm.
May all with eyes open eyes to see what goes on.

When Buddha sent his monks into the forest to establish a retreat, the story goes, they encountered hostility from the monkeys and spirits that lived there already. The monks returned to the Buddha, who then taught them this lovingkindness prayer, which they brought back to the forest beings. It disarmed everyone; humans’ fear and monkey’s anger melted, then evaporated. The ghosts and monkeys welcomed the monks as friends,

instead of invaders.

Through their eyes,
I remember receiving a sorrow
greater and more pure than the world.
I remember the langurs’ faces
as wiser than any human’s.
Were the monks’ hosts the ancestors
of these monkeys in the zoo?

And where
do the ghosts live now?

KARINA LUTZ is a longtime sustainability advocate and social entrepreneur. Her poems have been published by Dark Mountain, Tulane Review, Blueline, The Wayfarer, Poecology, Twisted Vine, The Transnational, and others. Her hybrid novella, The Teller, received the Landmark Prize for Fiction in 2019.