Crossing the Mekong by Roald Hoffmann
The sun touches the treetops. In, among the middle branch leaves, ruffed gibbon faces. They stretch, lick fur dry. It’s time, to greet neighbors with the morning’s old songs, time to check the soft-spined rambutan fruit. Climbing high for the launch, spread out flat, changing direction in midleap, shaping out of air a vector tunnel of openings and branches, the yelping gibbons' arboreal swing. Their children cling, ours crawl. We invented the beauty parlor, but take out our own splinters. They groom each other. Apes have dominant males who defend estate, sexual territory. We get married. Gibbons are almost like us. And when the stranger comes, swinging in an out- of-season coat, armed, smelling of his feed, we just look, furtively, look. They scatter to howl away the green-brown sky. If mother is taken far apes cower, babies cry. When a man of the Hmong dies the gibbons know. They come from the highlands in the night, stand guard, eat the offering. The monkey king gently wraps the man's soul in a white cloth bears it off in phantom leaps the stars’ tree limbs meeting his confident long hand reach, across the muddy river, back home.
Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Złoczów, then Poland. He came to the US in 1949, and has long been at Cornell University in the USA, active as a theoretical chemist. In chemistry, he has taught generations how to think about molecular orbitals.
Hoffmann is also a writer, carving out his own land between poetry, philosophy, and science. He has published five books of non-fiction, written three produced plays, and six volumes of poetry, including two book length selections of his poems in Spanish and Russian translations.