Study Guide

Bedtime Story

by George MacBeth

Bedtime Story eText - eText

Text of the Poem

Long long ago when the world was a wild place 
Planted with bushes and people by apes, our 
Mission Brigade was at work in the jungle.
     Hard by the Congo

Once, when a foraging detail was active 
Scouting for green-fly, it came on a grey man, the 
Last living man, in the branch of a baobab 
     Stalking a monkey.

Earlier men had disposed of, for pleasure, 
Creatures whose names we scarcely remember—
Zebra, rhinoceros, elephants, wart-hog, 
     Lion, rats, deer. But

After the wars had extinguished the cities
Only the wild ones were left, half-naked
Near the Equator: and here was the last one,    
     Starved for a monkey.

By then the Mission Brigade had encountered 
Hundreds of such men: and their procedure, 
History tells us, was only to feed them:
     Find them and feed them;   

Those were the orders. And this was the last one. 
Nobody knew that he was, but he was. Mud 
Caked on his flat grey flanks. He was crouched,
          half-
     armed with a shaved spear

Glinting beneath broad leaves. When their jaws cut 
Swathes through the bark and he saw fine teeth
          shine,
Round eyes roll round and forked arms waver 
     Huge as the rough trunks.

Over his head, he was frightened. Our workers 
Marched through the Congo before he was born,        
          but
This was the first time perhaps that he'd seen one. 
     Staring in hot still

Silence, he crouched there: then jumped. With a
          long swing
Down from his branch, he had angled his spear too 
Quickly, before they could hold him, and hurled it     
     Hard at the soldier
 
Leading the detail. How could he know Queen's 
Orders were only to help him? The soldier 
Winced when the tipped spear pricked him.
          Unsheathing his 
     Sting was a reflex.

Later the Queen was informed. There were no
          more
Men. An impetuous soldier had killed off, 
Purely by chance, the penultimate primate. 
     When she was certain.

Squadrons of workers were fanned through the
          Congo 
Detailed to bring back the man's picked bones
          to be
Sealed in the archives in amber. I'm quite sure 
     Nobody found them

After the most industrious search, though. 
Where had the bones gone? Over the earth, dear, 
Ground by the teeth of the termites, blown by the 
     Wind, like the dodo's.