A Theory of Violence

By Jennifer Perrine

Second Prize, New Ohio Review Poetry Contest
selected by Alan Shapiro

In the museum of sex, the video loops
its cycle of common bonobo behavior:
penis fencing, genital rubbing, whole groups

engaged in frenzied pairs, their grinds and shrieks
playing for the edification of each patron
passing through the room. We all summon

our best poker faces. One woman speaks
softly, reads from the sign that describes
all the various partner combinations,

the multitude of positions, how relations
lower aggression, increase bonding within tribes.
We linger over this way of making peace,

wonder to each other if we would cease
our litany of guns, bombs, missile strikes
if we spent more time in wild embrace.

The exhibit doesn’t mention our other cousins,
chimpanzees, who form border patrols, chase
strangers in their midst, leave mangled bodies as lessons.
That’s the story we already know

and want to forget through the release
of these erotic halls, where we seek the thrill, the bliss

of these animals who hold us captive
while we lament what traits we’ve found adaptive.

Jennifer Perrine is the award-winning author of four poetry books: Again, The Body Is No Machine, In the Human Zoo, and No Confession, No Mass. Jennifer serves as an editor for Airlie Press and a guest editor for Broadsided Press, co-hosts the Incite Queer Writers reading series, and hosts The Occasion, a poetry radio show on KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon. When not writing, Jennifer leads workshops on creative writing, social justice, and intersectional equity. Visit her website here and follow her on Instagram @mxreading.

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