Buddha vs. Bonobo by Brendan Walsh


In Buddha vs. Bonobo, Brendan Walsh juxtaposes ancient human philosophy with the inherent spirituality of our Great Ape cousins, bonobos. Guided by humor, animal practicality, and the omnipresent questions of existence, this collection seeks answers through imagining what humans lost by leaving the Congo River Basin millions of years ago to establish civilization, property, agriculture—bonobos might argue we’re lacking playfulness, free love, chaotic harmony with nature, and an ultimate connectivity.


Sample excerpt from “The Genius Bonobos Explain Numbers”


Count the fruit trees, take twelve months, measure rain—
four million. Sixty-one inches. Divide
ants by species of tree-dwelling rodents.
The canopy inhales measures of light;
we sleep the hours between sun and black.

You ask the deepest question of sums:
how many have we loved? How many mouths,
how many bodies, how many partners?
We answer: we descend from forty fathers,
one mother, from them we loved each other,
so too our babies tied one string from dirt

to crotch to one relentless sky. Only one.

Brendan Walsh has fallen in love with South Korea, Laos, and all of New England. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Make Anything Whole (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Go (Aldrich Press, 2016). His poems have appeared in Connecticut Review, LONTAR, Wisconsin Review, Mudfish, Lines + Stars, and other journals. Brendan can be found climbing palm trees, splitting coconuts, teaching poems, and channeling his inner-bonobo in South Florida.



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“We don’t think it makes sense. We dream of our cousins in trees…” That’s what Brendan Walsh does in this provocative collection of brief poems. He dreams of bonobos as natural sages—unlike the Buddha, their “legs just fold that way”—who share their wisdom with the ever-restless humans (“our world’s torment”). In the second part of the volume, Walsh’s dreams extend beyond bonobos to people whose uncommon lives lead to alternative takes on fundamental issues: a monk who has seen it all, a cult member (“Consider, though, one stretch … without thought, questions”), ancient wanderers turning experience into myth, a Jain starving himself to death, and more. Welcome surprises, and possible truths, abound.

—Tracy Duvall, Bonobo!



“These beautiful poems interrogate the central paradox of a life infinitely complex and utterly singular. “There is no single sound” says one poem; this tender, sensual and spiritual collection examines not simply the human condition, but the condition of the whole natural world, in conversation with its history and with its potential futures.”

—Andrew McMillan, Physical, Winner of the Guardian First Book Award



“A gorgeous scene of felt experience, of the body’s pulsing, desirous nature, and the world’s abundance. Because bonobos are not weighted by language (“they learn faces, feet, palms, kindness, not names”), they can slip between the moments of the day without fuss, without crossing the arbitrary boundaries that pervade human experience.”

—Joe McCarthy,



“In the poetic spirit of Hieronymus Bosch, who paints depictions of the human masses wriggling with the depravity that is the human condition, Brendan Walsh in Buddha vs Bonobo gives us a more serene, more successful “garden of earthly delights.” Here we find kind, gentle creatures—his vision of humanity as, or in contrast to, bonobo chimpanzees—populating the branches of fruit trees, bountiful in their provision. Here we find a life where existence is rooted in the senses—I eat; therefore, I am—I lust; therefore, I am—where the pure of heart win the world, not through civilization or development, but through the simplicity of their days.”

—Lynn Houston, The Clever Dream of Man

Additional information

Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5 in