There is a chimp named Ai who can count to five.
There’s a poet named Ai whose selected poems Vice
just won the National Book Award.
The name “Ai” is pronounced “I”
so that whenever I talk about the poet Ai
such as I’m teaching Ai’s poems again this semester
it sounds like I’m teaching my own poems
or when I say I love Ai’s work
it sounds as if I’m saying I love my own poems
but have poor grammar. I haven’t had a chance
to talk much yet about this Japanese chimp
who can arrange pictures in order of the number of objects
contained in those pictures. I just read about her
for the first time yesterday, the fifth of January in the year 00
which I imagine would be a hard concept
for Ai the chimp. It feels weird writing 00 –
I had to do it when I wrote my first check
of the year 2000. I think we should proclaim
this year as the year of Olive Oyl, who
is also an 00, but with letters instead of numbers.
I was in the Koko fan club for a while since I love gorillas,
but then I moved around so much, the newsletters
and requests for money stopped coming.
I wonder if Ai the poet is happy she shares a name
with a gifted chimp. To me, the most amazing thing
about Ai the poet is she hardly ever
writes an “I” poem about herself.
She crawls into the hearts
of the cruelest men and writes about what
it is like to be them, while I mostly
curl in the bellies of the shattered women.
There’s no evidence that one approach
is better than the other. There’s no evidence
that chimpanzees use numbers in the wild.
One expert said that perhaps chimpanzees
count the number of predators they see.
I read on the web that John Wayne actually said,
“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking
this great country away from them. There were great numbers
of people who needed new land,
and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
So maybe chimps do count their enemies, to see if they
have the advantage, but I’m a romantic –
I like to think that Ai the poet and I mostly count our stanzas.
I like to think Ai the chimp mostly counts her bananas.