Slaying Humbaba

Could you please not speak about his death, I said.

Who is being spoken for? you said.

I am speaking for him, I said.

But, you said, it was the coarsest ocean that you damned him with.

Well, I sputtered, the forest was filled with all that violent chirping, it was shimmying down the trees with its sashes.

But, you said, you took your ax to it like a trooper.

I am not the one to blame, I am speaking for him.

But, you said, who is being spoken for?

Should we just eat stones then? I said. Should we gnaw the salt out of the ground? Obviously there’s nothing left for us but to become single celled organisms bringing our hesitant evolution to the New World on three ships named after women!

Hmm, you said, and all this to delay the question?

I said, in doing this I am speaking for him.

Speaking for whom? you said.

Let us just agree to disagree! I yelled.

In no time at all your first ape will come, you said, but you will still have the question to haunt you.

I will speak for him, I said.

What will you say? you said.

What? I said. What will I say? I shall say . . . I shall say I am speaking for him, of course.

And all the apes will turn to you, you said, from the postures of their cities and cry out, “Who? Who?”

And I shall say back to them, I’ll say, “You know damn well who!”

But they won’t be satisfied, you said. You will just be breeding an evolution out of your own dissatisfaction.

What? I said. Who’s dissatisfied?

Whomever’s being spoken for, you said.

You are the one who’s dissatisfied! I screamed.

Who am I? you said.

But I saw where this was leading, yes, I saw just where this was leading. So I withdrew my sacrificial knife and, wordless, slew Humbaba.

You already did that, you said, looking at me as if I was absurd, but I had no more use for words, and I went on slaying Humbaba without end, scowling at the spoiled hilt of my blade.

[See Note On This Poem]