(after “Two Chained Monkeys” oil on wood, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder)
The monkeys are shackled high in the windowsill
of a masonry wall, seaside village in the distance.
The stone wall doesn’t know who’s been chained to it,
who’s been closed out or in. When we’re tethered,
we notice what the free don’t—gaps between bricks,
constellations the sailboats unwittingly mimic
down there on the sea, the girl at the well unbraiding
her hair. We promise each other we’ll pay attention.
The monkeys are chained not just to concrete but to
each other. Mated or siblings, or never having met.
Were they bent free from iron I don’t suppose
they would swing by tails down wall to shore
to swim or sail. There is the possibility of stowing
away. The sea never knows who vows to see it, who
dies inside it. When the children have grown, we
promise each other horizon. The monkey’s keeper
was told to give them nuts and fruit. What’s the first
thing they would eat when free? Fish in nets
flopping on boat decks? Fried bread from a street
market vendor? One can only eat so many green
grapes and bananas. I tell myself the monkeys
remember clinging to their treetop mother’s
back. There is the possibility of a burst of strength,
of bending iron. When freed, what might they
miss of their keepers? When no one is
looking I promise myself a burst of strength.
Kerry Trautman has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, primarily in the US, but some with international distribution. Her poetry books are Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press 2012,) To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press 2015,) Artifacts (NightBallet Press 2017,) and To be Nonchalantly Alive (Kelsay Books 2020.)