The Human Genre Project

Primate Center, Duke University

“In their native Madagascar, aye-aye are considered bad luck, and villagers hunt them down whenever possible. Legend has it that if an aye-aye points its bony third finger at you, you will die soon.”—Science News, Apr. 1992

“An aye-aye, one of the world’s least-known primates and among its strangest, clung to a coconut frond three feet away. [. . . T]he aye-aye stared at him for a few minutes, as if curious about a fellow primate, before nonchalantly disappearing back into the night.”—BioScience, Nov. 1993


The guide shushes us at the edge. Beyond
fluorescence, the simulated night stirs;
calibrates a prosimian ear; draws near.

A long index finger, toothpick bone,
wanders—with an ant antenna’s deliberate
tap, or an inchworm’s nudging measure—

a scruff of coconut. And when the aye-aye
finds the nut’s fontanel, the soft eye,
he bores a hole to extract the insides.

He peers at us from the dark. We’re
gripped in silence as he spoons up finger-full
by finger-full until—intact, hollow-skulled—

the dropped husk’s thud breaks the spell.
We blink; stretch—emergent, peripheral—
What light originates—


What light originates at this center
troubles our most rational
irrational selves, and our jigsawed

dreams are not clean of history.
At night, what startles us awake
is the wrong of a wrong number.

Test or accident? Today, how many
of the sequences we squint over
will we find mis-stamped

or illegible? This matter of fact
is hard shell, dry seeds,
scant hint of meat or milk.

If you pick it up and shake it,
you can hear the organ
grind, and dance to the little bells.

Laura-Gray Street